Monday, 20 December 2010

Philippine booters’ amazing Cup journey ends

By Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The journey that quietly started in Vientiane, made a lot of noise in Hanoi and created a stir in Manila finally ended in Jakarta on Sunday night.

Ranged against a side with unquestioned pedigree in the Southeast Asian level, the Filipinos fell short, their title hopes vanquished by a 0-1 defeat to the Indonesians in the second leg of the semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup before a wild crowd of 85,000 at the Bung Karno Stadium here.

Indonesia won both legs—by the slimmest of margins—with the Filipinos defending valiantly to limit the production of the tournament’s best attacking side.

Cristian Gonzales, Indonesia’s Uruguay-born striker, tormented the Philippines for the second straight match as his left-footed 25-yard strike in the 44th minute beat Neil Etheridge.

Gonzales also struck the winning goal in the first leg, his header sailing past Etheridge who slipped while trying to catch the long pass.

The Filipinos finished the game with 10 men after Chris Greatwich, who had missed a couple of good chances midway in the second half, was sent off for his second yellow card.

Just as surprising as the Filipinos’ run was the sudden rise of popularity of the sport in a country crazy about basketball and boxing.

Known as the Azkals, the Filipinos refused to give up until the final whistle, desperately throwing men forward and were almost punished several times. They were limited to a series of half-chances early on with Phil Younghusband, Chris Greatwich and Anton del Rosario firing long-range shots over the bar.

The Philippine defense looked panicky at times as Indonesia raided the flanks.

Etheridge needed to intervene several times, moving out of his line to gather through balls, including Firman Utina’s pass to a rushing Gonzales in the 11th minute.

Indonesia had blown several chances to score until Gonzales struck. The Indonesian striker did well to keep his balance against Aly Borromeo, and before Rob Gier could shut him down, he rifled the shot that had Etheridge diving to his right in vain.

It was the second goal in the tie for the 34-year-old Gonzales, a veteran of the Indonesian Super League, who became a naturalized Indonesian before the start of the tournament.

True to its word, Indonesia refused to sit back on its slender one-goal lead as Muhammad Ridwan and Okto Maniani marauded the wings and Firman Utina and Ahmad Bustomi terrorized the Filipino defense at midfield.

The Filipinos saw three players booked in the first half with Gier getting a yellow for his mistimed challenge on Gonzales, Ian Araneta for an altercation with Hamka Hamsah and Greatwich for a clumsy tackle on Gonzales.

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