Eight years ago, the underdog Azkals gatecrashed the elite with a massive upset of the Vietnamese in the so-called “Miracle of Hanoi” campaign en route to a surprising stint in the semis of the biennial meet.
BusinessWorld/File
Azkals face Golden Dragons in first of two-legged series
Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - December 2, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Azkals face Top 100 side Vietnam in the semifinal series of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, hoping to use the Golden Dragons as their springboard to history much like they did back in 2010.

Eight years ago, the underdog Azkals gatecrashed the elite with a massive upset of the Vietnamese in the so-called “Miracle of Hanoi” campaign en route to a surprising stint in the semis of the biennial meet. 

Now an established contender, the Pinoy booters look to make further history and score a milestone finals qualification by beating the Golden Dragons in their two-legged Last-4 duel initially  tonight at Panaad Stadium in Bacolod and later on Dec. 6 over at My Dinh Stadium, the same Hanoi venue where they made their starmaking performance.

Tonight’s first leg kicks off at 7:30 p.m. with the charges of coach Sven Goran Eriksson looking to capitalize on the home edge and their trademark fighting spirit to gain a headstart against the Vietnamese, the top Southeast Asian side in the Fifa world rankings at No. 100.

“I like our team, I like it very much. We have a lot of good football players and we play with a big heart,” said Eriksson, whose team notched two wins and two draws in Group B to return to the semis after missing that stage in 2016.

Phl XI, though, proceeds with its historic bid with only 18 players in the fold following the departure of goalkeeper Neil Etheridge of Cardiff City, left back Daisuke Sato of Romanian club Sepsi OSK, midfielder Patrick Strauss of Bundesliga second division outfit FC Erzebirge Aue, and Stephan Palla of Buriram back to their respective clubs and the injury to Luke Woodland.

The Azkals’ “18 Strong” led by custodian Michael Falkesgaard, Phil and James Younghusband, Manny Ott, Alvaro Silva, and Stephan Schrock are expected to work double time to fuel the Azkals’ drive to history.

Notes: Azkals skipper Phil Younghusband lamented how the Philippines produced the lowest turnout of supporters at home at a combined 7,849 in the group stage. “It saddens me to see out of the 10 teams, from each of the teams’ two home games, we had the lowest attendance and ranked last,” he said. “Even Timor Leste, who did not play one game in their own country, has garnered more support than us (9,076).” He appealed for the “12th man” to finally show up tonight. “In the semifinal in the past, we have sometimes struggled in the away ties because of the atmosphere and the hostile crowds that cheer on their home team and intimidate us. We need to do the same on our own turf,” he said.

ASEAN FOOTBALL FEDERATION PHILIPPINE AZKALS SUZUKI CUP
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