BIÑAN, Laguna, Philippines —Like good soldiers on a mission, the Young Azklas pulverized the enemy in the name of Timor Leste, 6-1, but instead of celebrating the win, the Philipines’ Eleven were reduced to tears knowing they failed, notwithstanding the win, to make it into the semis of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games football competitions anew.
Hardly had the din of celebration subsided, the news felt like a stab of a sharp, cold knife that shredded PH’s hopes at breaking a 28-year semifinal drought, no thanks to Cambodia’s stunning win over 2017 silver medalist Malaysia, 3-1, at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Young Azkals had to give way to the Cambodians for the second semifinal spot in Group A on goal difference.
That win also put to waste what could be the greatest performance of Amani Aguinaldo who came away with a gem of game, leading PH’s defense for almost 70 minutes, before moving up the pitch to play striker and completed the assault en route to PH’s stirring 6-1 win.
Aguinaldo had a hat trick with two late goals but Lady Luck flashed her smile the other way, Cambodia’s way to be exact, and it was indeed a very tough winning and losing kind of thing.
“It was very tough to go out with a win,” captain Stephan Schrock said. “The boys are down, up to now, it was very difficult for us to understand what happened, but that’s football.”
PH had it clearly in mind and the Azkals tried to work early on that crucial goal difference by pouring all their might against Timor Leste in Binan, Laguna by erecting a 2-0 lead at the break on goals by Aguinaldo and Schrock.
By this time Cambodia was up 3-0 lead after 68 minutes of play.
The Filipinos looked on course to reach the semifinals as Mar Diano slammed home the Young Azkals’ third goal in the 54th minute mark off a Schrock free kick before Dylan de Bruycker added another after 24 minutes.
Aguinaldo scored his second in the 86th minute and it looked like the Young Azkals still had a slight opening as Quentin Cheng scored for Malaysia to trim the gap 1-3.
At this point, the Azkals needed two more goals and got one through Aguinaldo’s 90th-minute strike before disaster struck minutes later when Nataniel Reis’ free kick slipped through the hands of PH goalkeeper Anthony Pinthus that all but snuffed out the Azkals’ semifinal aspiration.
“Honestly, I thought we deserved to advance,” said Philippines coach Goran Milojevic. “But that’s the sport, we can get unlucky. We had everything arranged to score more and more goals; Aguinaldo is already playing like a striker after some tactical changes and that was excellent. Players deserve that one goal, not to concede one goal. But football is like that.” (IAMIGO/CNS)