The Philippine national men’s football team, Azkals, looked like it was on its way to another scoreless draw after the first half of action against Indonesia on Tuesday.
In the second half, however, all hell broke lose at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Indonesian forward Patrick Wanggai scored against run of play at the 56th minute to give the Merah Putih a 1-nil lead.
But the Azkals, buoyed by the returning Younghusband brothers and Neil Etheridge who checked in at halftime, did not fade in the face of adversity. James Younghusband dispossessed an Indonesian defender for an easy score to tie the game at the 56th minute.
The hometown boys looked ready to pounce, and Angel Guirado had a golden opportunity two minutes later, only to be foiled by Indonesian keeper Markus Maulana.
Instead, Indonesian star Irfan Bachdim flew the flanks on a counterattack, giving his team a 2-1 lead at the 62nd minute.
Bachdim was then prominently involved in another eventful exchange moments later — for all the wrong reasons. The Indonesian forward got into a shoving match with Azkals veteran wingman Chieffy Caligdong, which led to a near-scuffle among the players and coach Hans Michael Weiss running onto the field to try to cool things down.
Bachdim, Caligdong, and Filipino-German midfielder Manny Ott were all handed red cards for their role in the incident, giving Indonesia a 10-9 man advantage on the pitch.
But the shorthanded Azkals quickly showed their fangs, with Dennis Cagara setting up James Younghusband, who then passed to Phil Younghusband for a tying goal at the 84th minute.
The Indonesians were unable to further capitalize on their man advantage, as an injury to one of their players left them on equal footing with the Azkals all the way to the final buzzer.
Azkals coach Hans Michael Weiss lauded his team despite the draw.
“This is character, this is spirit which I want to see from the team,” he said.
“I think step-by-step, we will be a good team.”
Weiss added that he sees the Azkals developing into a more potent scoring unit.
“We wanna do more than just defending and play more offensive football. We have a big potential, offensively. It’s just a matter of time.”
Weiss also explained his decision to keep Etheridge and the Younghusbands on the bench in the first half.
“We have six months left before this very big tournament (the AFF Suzuki Cup). I have to test new players, like the keeper (Roland Mueller), I have to see how he copes with the situations. The same applies to new players,” said Weiss.
“I know what James, Phil, and Neil are capable of doing.”
The German coach’s move seemed to pay off in the first half, as the Azkals outclassed Indonesia, dominating every possession and preventing the visitors’ offensive attack. But the nationals couldn’t score, as early chances by Chieffy Caligdong and Angel Guirado couldn’t find the back of the net.
The Azkals missed the services of Stephan Schrock, who suddenly flew back to Germany to attend an urgent family emergency. Despite his absence, many observers think this was the strongest lineup they fielded ever, with the Younghusbands as well as Ott, Cagara, Jerry Lucena, Denis Wolf, and Angel Guirado on hand to fill the void left by Schrock.
Goalkeeper Etheridge was also back after missing their friendly against Malaysia last week due to the suspension he received way back in the AFC Challenge Cup last March.
Prior to the match, the Philippines had not won in its last 20 matches against Indonesia, dating back to the 1958 Asian Games when it suffered a 5-2 loss in the quarterfinals. The biggest win in Indonesian national football history also came at the expense of the Philippines, 12-0, during the President’s Cup in 1972.
In the 2010 Suzuki Cup, the Indonesians spoiled the Azkals’ surprising semifinal run, pulling off an aggregate 2-0 win. Because of the unavailability of a suitable venue for the Philippines at the time, the Azkals were forced to play both matches in Jakarta.
After Indonesia, the Philippine side will face Guam on June 12 at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod to cap off its series of international friendly matches this June.