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Finally, Azkals rediscover their bite vs Nepal

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The Philippine Azkals believe there’s plenty of room for improvement despite ending a stretch of sluggish performances with a 4-1 romp of Nepal in Tuesday’s 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers third round opener at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Two goals by Phil Younghusband and one each from Iain Ramsay and Javier Patino allowed the Azkals to get the maximum three points and end a four-match winless skid that saw the national side go two draws and one defeat in the AFF Suzuki Cup and being held scoreless by Malaysia in a recent friendly.

“We could have had more goals, whether it comes down to goal difference, we don’t know, but the most important thing is getting the win and making sure we play well,” said Younghusband, who raised his international scoring mark to 45 goals, the most by any player who donned the national colors.

“I think in the first 30 minutes, our intensity, our urgency was very good. Once it went 3-0 (on Ramsay’s goal in the 27th), we took an extra touch here and there and slowed the play down especially in this field because it plays very slow when it bounces.

“I think once we got the third goal, we got a bit complacent. The fourth goal in the second half (courtesy of Patino in the 73rd) in the second half gave us more confidence, gave us a bit more security,” he added.

One particularly play that put a bit of a damper to the comprehensive win was the way the Azkals conceded the only goal scored by the visiting Nepalese side. Substitute Bishal Rai was left unmark inside the box, allowing to score past Azkals goalie Neil Etheridge before the referee’s whistle.

Azkals coach Thomas Dooley rued the defensive miscue, which came despite having the advantage after Nepal was reduced to 10 men following a straight red by Bikram Lama for a handball 12 minutes after the opening whistle.

“I think it can be avoided, every goal can be avoided,” said Dooley. “I’m a little bit upset at halftime, but even when you’re winning 3-0, 4-0, 5-0, you have enough urgency to do something. I think it was a wide open and we had three guys in the box.

“Another thing that upsets me is our marking. Everybody has to mark a player and we have to mark that player until we have the ball. We have to look at the tapes. Those are the things we still have to work on and we don’t want to get scored at,” he added.

The Azkals share the early lead in Group F with Yemen, which posted a 2-0 victory over Tajikistan in the other group match late Tuesday. The national booters’ next match is on June when they travel to face Tajikistan.

Azkals team manager Dan Palami plans to set up a friendly ahead of that Tajikistan match, with China being eyed as the possible opponent.