Clad in blue, we watched the game at the 14th floor pantry of our Makati office. The atmosphere was festive, and popcorn was aplenty.
|This ain't a call center...it's an Azkal kennel!|
|Me says "Rock and roll Azkals!"|
Hats off to the Mongolian keeper who did a great job stopping wave after wave of on goal attempts by the Azkals. The room erupted when Emilio "Chieffy" Caligdong who plays for the Philippine Air Force, scored the first goal at 42'. He showed superb ball handling skills by controlling the ball near the goal, fooled his Mongolian defender, then launched a shot that went through the legs of the Wolves' GK (a nutmeg, in football parlance).
The Azkals had majority of the possessions, with the Blue Wolves content with defending their side with 7 to 8 men. The Pinoys went a man up when a Mongolian defender was sent off for his second yellow card, and pounced on the Mongolian goal like a squadron of X-wings attacking a wounded Imperial Star Destroyer. Several attempts however were denied as if by an invisible forcefield, with the ball hitting the crossbar and posts, or miraculously saved by the Mongolian goalie.
Phil Younghusband then struck the net late in injury time ('92) to put the Azkals up 2-0, reminiscent of his goal against Vietnam in the Suzuki Cup. This gave the Philippines a slight edge going into the away game in Ulan Bator on March 15. Phil's after-goal somersault drew not a few sighs and delighted shrieks from swooning female (and male) fans at the office. When the final whistle was blown, there were whoops and applause and then it was back to work for all of us.
|All smiles after the Azkals won the match|
At the end of the day, winning the match was enough to appease thousands of angry fans who were earlier denied tickets to the stadium due to miscommunication and lack of coordination between the Philippine Football Federation and local government officials. It would also be time for the coaching staff to evaluate the team's performance, and address key areas of improvement, particularly on offense.
Overall, holding the first leg of the AFC qualifying match here in the Philippines gave Filipinos a reason to rally behind a team it proudly calls its own and celebrate the Azkals' victory as a nation united by sports.
Let us continue to support the Azkals and Philippine football!