BACOLOD - The Philippine Azkals opened their 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign on a bright note, scrambling past Singapore, 1-0, in front of a passionate crowd at the Panaad Stadium here.
The Azkals thus moved to a tie at the top of the table in Group B alongside their victims, Thailand and Indonesia, which beat Timor Leste 3-1 in Jakarta.
"A very good win, a very important win," said Azkals coach Sven-Goran Eriksson. "I think we deserved the result. We were the better team. We had more chances."
It was a struggle for both sides for most of the match, but the Azkals gradually took control of possession in the second half and started finding the target more. It was a stark contrast to the first half, when neither side could find the mark or control the tempo.
Both sides tried to create chances in the first half but neither was able to come up with a solid attempt.
A free kick by Muhammad Safuwan Baharudin just outside the box in the 18th minute following a foul by Carli De Murga was Singapore's first real chance, but the shot was wide to the right.
Just before the halftime whistle, the Lions had another decent chance, but Gabriel Yi's long free kick from the right was punched out by Neil Etheridge.
"I think we were very timid in the first half," Eriksson noted. "In the second we opened it up more."
In the 49th, the Azkals had a shot on goal but Manny Ott's strike from 20 yards was parried by Lions keeper Hassan Sunny.
In the 64th, James Younghusband had an excellent chance from 10 yards, but again Sunny was up to the task.
The Azkals finally broke through in the 77th minute when Patrick Reichelt, gathering a short pass from Phil Younghusband, weaved through the Lions defense, emerged with the ball after a scramble in the box and slotted it past Sunny, who had no chance to stop it this time.
The Lions came close to equalizing near the end, but Daisuke Sato thwarted the attack near the right goal post with a body block.
"They were hard to break down," said James Younghusband, who came on at the start of the second half for Mike Ott. "There were some scary moments in the end. We've got a lot to work on, which is a good thing. The main thing today is three points on the board and relieve some of the pressure off of the team."
"It's always tough," added Etheridge, who was playing in his first Suzuki Cup match in eight year. "We analyzed their performances previously but you never know how they're going to play. They sat defensively, they looked to counter-attack. I thought we nullified what they had in the first half. In the second half we knew we had to move the ball quicker to break them down. I believe we did that. We've got a lot to work on but we're happy to put three points on the board."
The Azkals next face Timor Leste on November 17 in an "away" match in Kuala Lumpur.
- The announced crowd was 4,219.
- This was Phil Younghusband's 100th cap. He was subbed out in the last minute of the match by Curt Dizon.
- Luke Woodland had to be brought to the hospital after injuring his leg following a hard collision in the first half. But word was he was okay.
- The Azkals controlled possession 62% to 38%, and also had more shots on goal 11-7. View the complete match summary here.