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AFC Challenge Cup: Phil Younghusband, Reichelt fire Azkals to semis with win over Turkmenistan

(Update-2 6:36am) Phil Younghusband scored off a free kick, while Patrick Reichelt added the insurance goal, as the Philippine national team advanced to the knockout stage of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup with a 2-0 win over Turkmenistan, Saturday at the National Football Stadium in Male, Maldives.

Needing just a draw to move on to the next stage against the team that sent the Azkals into the battle for third place in 2012, the Philippines relied on goalkeeper Roland Muller to keep them in the game before Younghusband and Reichelt struck in the second half.

If we have learned anything about Coach Thomas Dooley in the last few months, it is to expect the unexpected. Even then, many were surprised — even alarmed — with the Starting XI he named versus Turkmenistan. 19-year-old Amani Aguinaldo replaced the injured Juani Guirado, and fellow youngster Daisuke Sato replaced veteran Dennis Cagara. Balot Doctora was on instead of Patrick Reichelt, and Jason de Jong started ahead of James Younghusband.

Aguinaldo, Sato, Doctora, and de Jong joined Roland Muller, Rob Gier (captain), Paul Mulders, Phil Younghusband, Martin Steuble, and Stephan Schrock on the pitch.

On the other side, Turkmenistan was missing three crucial players, defenders Annaorazov Serdar and Soyunov Shohrat, and goalkeeper Gorbunov Nikita. Serdar and Nikita were sent off during the Turkmenistan versus Afghanistan game, while Shohrat was suspended on accumulated yellow cards. Nikita is also Turkmenistan’s captain.

Turkmenistan started off the game with a quick attempt that was adjudged offside right in the first minute. From then on, it was end-to-end action, with possession slightly in favor of the Azkals. In the 12th minute, however, Phil Younghusband was shown a yellow card for taking a free kick before the referee whistled.

There were a couple of missed chances from Rota and Balot. At the 29th minute, Balot had to be substituted off for Patrick Reichelt due to an injury.

The real highlights of the first half, however, were not the missed chances, but the saves by Roland Muller. Muller had a couple of crucial saves but none bigger than the penalty he stopped, a little after the 40th minute, off a questionable foul by Rota. Turkmenistan’s Ata Boliyan stepped up to take the kick, but Muller guessed right and was able to tip the ball out on a full stretch. It was a beautiful save that ensured that Turkmenistan would head into the break with their nerves a little more frayed than before.

It was not a long wait for a goal after the break. Reichelt was fouled by Turkmenistan’s Mekan Saparov and the Azkals were awarded a free kick. Phi Younghusband stepped up to take it and curved the ball to avoid the wall and the keeper, right into the bottom corner of the goal. No one on the opposing team even got so much as a fingertip on the ball, making it 1-0, Philippines, at the 50th minute.

And then it was a frenzy as Turkmenistan tried to even things out. Muller, however, was up to the task time and again.

At the 63rd minute, Schrock was replaced by Jerry Lucena and minutes later, Rota was replaced by Anton del Rosario, perhaps to ensure that everyone would be fit enough for their next game and so that the chances for yellow cards was be less. The game was also quite physical, with wayward elbows and a lot of unnecessary shoving and pushing. At one point, Phil seemed to have been flipped over by a Turkmen and got a bit of the pitch in his mouth. 

At the 72nd minute, the Azkals doubled their score. Patrick Reichelt received the cross from Steuble just inside the box and sent the ball in on the first touch. 2-0, Philippines, with less than 20 minutes left in the game.

Shortly after that, Turkmenistan striker Farhad Italmazov picked up his second yellow card of the game, making things even more dire for the Azkals’ opponents. Turkmenistan continued their physical play, but the Azkals kept their cool, except perhaps for a yellow card shown to Amani. There were three minutes of added time, but Turkmenistan were too deflated to play catch up.

The win gives the Philippines seven points, ahead of Afghanistan (5 points) which finished 0-0 over Laos, allowing the Azkals to top Group B. That pits them against hosts Maldives in the semifinals, while Afghanistan takes on Palestine in the other pairing, with both matches taking place on May 27, also at the National Football Stadium, which, it is hoped will have recovered by kickoff.

There were reports of a bus crash in Addu City involving the vehicle of the team from Afghanistan, who were on their way back to their resort after their game versus Laos. Three players, including their captain, and two team officials were reportedly injured, and were taken to the hospital. The Afghanistan Football Team has since said that none of their players were seriously hurt.

None of the Azkals will be suspended for the semifinals match versus Maldives. Single yellow cards are not carried over to the next round, and the Azkals have, smartly, not accumulated cards enough to merit suspensions.

Injuries, however, are another thing altogether. Balot Doctora has a suspected meniscus injury in the same knee he usually complains about in the UFL. Although he is optimistic about a return within the short break before the next game, Balot joins a list growing list of injured players. Carlie de Murga was already injured before the games started. Neil Etheridge, Juani Guirado, and Chris Greatwich were all injured during the games. Hopefully, the two-day break and the sun and sand will do well for the Azkals.   - AMD, GMA News