BACOLOD - The Philippine Azkals found themselves in need of another Miracle in Hanoi after falling the visiting Vietnam, 1-2, in the first leg of their 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal series at the Panaad Stadium here.
Despite becoming the first team to score against the vaunted Vietnamese defense, the Azkals head to Hanoi in need of a big win to advance to the final after conceding two away goals. The Azkals play Vietnam on December 6, eight years and a day to the day that they pulled off a stunning 2-0 triumph in Hanoi in the group stage of the 2010 tournament that triggered their rise in the region.
They will need another similar feat on Thursday to stay alive.
The Azkals started out well. In the ninth minute, a Martin Steuble cross found Patrick Reichelt at the right side of the box, but the forward's attempt was inches off to the right.
Vietnam struck first in the 12th minute after a long through ball from Doan Van Hau found Nguyen Anh Duc, who headed it in past Michael Falkesgaard from the center of the box.
The Azkals pressed their attack in search of an equalizer. In the 28th, Steuble maneuvered into the box on the left side, but his grounder was saved by Dang Van Lam.
Then just before halftime, Phil Younghusband broke free on the left flank and launched a cross to Reichelt, who tapped it in from close range for the equalizer. It was the first goal conceded by Vietnam in the tournament, and the first-ever goal scored by the Philippines in the Suzuki Cup semifinals.
But the joy for the Azkals was short-lived. Just three minutes into the second half, Phan Van Duc restored the lead for the visitors after gathering a brilliant pass from Nguyen Trong Hoang in the box and, unchallenged, slotted it past Falksgaard.
"(Vietnam is a) very good team, the best team we have played against in the Suzuki Cup," Azkals coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said after the match. "If you want to beat a team like this you cannot concede two goals."
The Azkals searched for a second equalizer for the rest of the second half, and came close a few times, although Vietnam also had three good chances to pad their lead.
Younghusband had a decent attempt in the 68th but his left-footed shot inside the box after a turn was caught by Dang on the right side. Vietnam's quickness gave the Azkals problems all game long. They were quicker to the ball and did well to stymie the Azkals' attack. But despite this, the Azkals led in possession 54% to 46%.
The Azkals now travel to Hanoi for the second leg of the semifinal series, where they will face the hosts in front of what is likely to be a capacity crowd at My Dinh Stadium needing to win and score at least two goals to level things and force extra time.
"Now 90 minutes to go on Thursday. So we go there and try to change this. I've seen bigger things happen. We are not out of this. Definitely not," said Eriksson. "I think if we play as we did in the first I think we have a chance."
- Hundreds of Vietnamese fans flew in to cheer on their squad. Their media delegation was also rather large.
- Crowd attendance was pegged at 5,489.
- With a dearth of defenders following the departure of Daisuke Sato and the injury of Luke Woodland, Sven-Goran Eriksson started Adam Tull, normally a defending midfielder, at right back.