Undermanned Azkals succumb to Olyroos
- Olmin Leyba () - February 18, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A short-handed Philippine Azkals valiantly fought before bowing to a stronger Qantas Australia Under-23 side, 0-1, Thursday night in Dubai (early Friday in Manila) as they capped their 10-day Middle East training camp for the coming AFC Challenge Cup.

Missing Phil and James Younghusband who were permitted to go back to Manila to fulfill a previous commitment, co-skippers Chieffy Caligdong and Aly Borromeo who are injured and some Europe-based stalwarts who are tied with club duties, the Azkals made do with what they have but fell short against a superior Olyroos.

“It’s a good result against a very strong team. There are expectations but we have to put this into a proper context,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss, stressing that Australia is an established football power, having qualified for the last two editions of the Fifa World Cup.

Phl XI played very deep to try to limit the scoring chances of the Olyroos, who expectedly got the lion’s share of possession in the match witnessed by a 4,000-strong crowd, mostly OFWs.

But Australian A-League standout Jason Hoffman found the back of the net in the ninth minute, heading the ball beyond the reach of Azkals keeper Neil Etheridge, off a cross by Rocco Visconte for what turned out the marginal goal.

“A 1-0 loss against Australia and without key players isn’t a bad result,” Azkal Chris Greatwich, who monitored the game online, said on Twitter.

The Azkals absorbed their second setback in their three-game Gulf stint, falling to Uzbekistan Olympic team, 0-3, last Saturday also in Dubai but winning over Qatari club Al Ahli, 3-1, in Doha last Monday.

“(Overall), I’m satisfied. But we were lacking in the passing game and the movement upfront but we didn’t allow too many scoring chances which was something we have been really working on. We have made decent progress in the camp even without some of the pillars of the team,” said Weiss.

The Azkals are “cramming” to get match-sharp and cohesive in time for the March 8-19 Challenge Cup in Nepal, where they are slated to meet strong sides in North Korea, Tajikistan and India.

“It was a great camp. We got better after every game which showed that the team was able to benefit from the time and training together,” said team manager Dan Palami.

The Azkals were mostly on the defensive, with the Olyroos constantly gaining ball possession and threatening in Phl XI’s half. Despite this, the Aussies’ hardly seriously troubled Etheridge, save for Hoffman’s header, Rocco Visconte’s shot that went inches wide and Ben Kantarovski’s free kick.

Without the Younghusbands, the Azkals had a hard time on the counter-attack, with Denis Wolf virtually left to carry the fight upfront. 

Adjustments were made in the second half, with subs Ruben Doctora and Joshua Beloya helping out with the assault, getting a couple of chances against the Olyroos, albeit unfinished.

The Azkals packed their bags for Manila yesterday, looking ahead to their Fifa friendly against reigning AFF Suzuki Cup titlist Malaysia Tigers on Feb. 29 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

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