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Azkals rue failure to advance in semis

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BOCAUE, Bulacan – Disappointing was the one word almost every member of the Philippine Azkals described when asked about the debacle that is their failed semifinal bid in the AFF Suzuki Cup.

The Azkals saw their streak of three straight semifinal appearances end in bitter fashion Friday night following a 1-0 loss to defending champion Thailand at the Philippine Sports Stadium here coupled with Indonesia’s 2-1 victory over Singapore at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.

“It’s very disappointing,” Azkals star Phil Younghusband told reporters after the match. “We have high expectations because we had such good players and we know the quality of the team.”

Stephan Schrock, for his part, added that his Suzuki Cup debut was far from being a disappointment.

“For us players, it’s a disaster,” Schrock said.

Many were hoping to see the Azkals to not only progress in the semifinal round, but also reach the Suzuki Cup final for the first time with roster led by Younghusband, Schrock, Misagh Bahadoran and brothers Manny and Mike Ott.

But it seemed like the Azkals were doomed even before the Suzuki Cup began. Right back Simone Rota and midfielder Patrick Reichelt were out with injuries while striker Javier Patino and left back Daisuke Sato failed to secure releases from their clubs overseas.

The scoreless draw against Singapore proved to be a sign of things to come for the Azkals as they failed to find the back of the net despite having seven shots on target.

Against Indonesia, the Azkals defense was jittery and allowed Indonesia to take the lead twice, before needing a Younghusband free kick to salvage a 2-2 tie.

On Friday, the Azkals once again were off-target, with Bahadoran missing the team’s best chance near the hour mark, although they kept the game scoreless thanks to a solid defense surprisingly led by 17-year-old Marco Casambre.

But Azkals coach Thomas Dooley decided to sit Casambre in favor of Kevin Ingreso, which eventually backfired after Sarawut Masuk scored the marginal goal for Thailand.

“We did our best, but we were unlucky,” said Bahadoran. “The weakness that we have is to score a goal, how the release the ball faster for us to score goals.”

“We have to be more creative with our offensive game and we were always under pressure on defense,” said goalkeeper Roland Muller.

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