By JONAS TERRADO
Philippine Azkals coach Stewart Hall lamented on the decisive stretch that led to the team’s 2-1 loss to host Singapore in their AFF Suzuki Cup opener Thursday.
Singapore leaned on Hariss Harun’s opener off a set piece followed by a Faris Ramli’s header courtesy of a counterattack after the hour mark which stunned an Azkals team that kept the match scoreless in the first 45 minutes and the early part of the second half.
Amin Nazari’s header gave the Philippines a lifeline but attempts to tie the score went futile, and Singapore wound up with the full three points before less than 10,000 fans at the cavernous National Stadium.
“I’m disappointed that we have got beaten because we’ve got beaten in three minutes,” Hall said during the post-match press conference.
“We’ve had a crazy, silly three minutes and thrown away 87 minutes of hard work. But that’s football. You have to learn from that.”
The match was scoreless until the 61st minute when a corner led to an unmarked Hariss to convert a close range header past goalkeeper Kevin Mendoza that broke the ice.
Man of the Match Muhammad Safuwam helped set up that goal by heading the corner into Hariss for the goal.
But it turned into a nightmare for the Azkals immediately after as Oliver Bias was dispossessed and Singapore’s Zulgarnaen Suzliman pushed forward to the right flank, before firing a cross for Faris, who flicked the second goal for the host country.
“Three crazy minutes, two flick ons from the corner and the marking wasn’t good enough. And then a mistake on the halfway line. Where we couldn’t get the ball on a breakout on the transition and we’ve given it away and they’ve got it behind us again,” rued Hall.
Hall, however, lauded his team for trying to salvage a point with Nazari scoring off a corner kick in the 69th. There were late attempts to pull even, but attempts mainly by Angel Guirado were denied before the final whistle.
“We had three crazy minutes, but after that credit to the players, we’ve gone up again,” he said. “We’ve changed things a little, we’ve gone up again and I thought our attitude in the last 20-25 minutes was was excellent. And we could easily have equalized. So I’m pleased with that and that’s something to build.”
Something to build means that the Azkals may need to produce points in their next three matches in order to sneak a semifinal spot given to the two best teams in Group A.
The Azkals have winless Timor-Leste next on Dec. 11, then title favorite Thailand three days later which is a massive challenge before taking on Myanmar on Dec. 18.