Despite the fact that they only managed to salvage a draw in their last two matches in the Group Stage, the Philippine Azkals was able to weather all the circumstances to advance in the semifinals of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup.
First in the Azkals conquest for a semifinals slot is the regional foe and defending champion Thailand, luckily the men’s national football team to withstand the War Elephants to force a 1-1 draw at the Panaad Stadium last November 21st.
The visitor fired the first shot with Chaided Supachai scored in the 56th minute after escaping the tough defense of the Azkals but the home team was able to redeem themselves in the 81st minutes with Jovin Bedic launched a right –foot shot that went through at the back of the net to level the score 1-1.
Bedic, who came as a substitute for Stephen Palla in the 78th minute, became a catalyst to help the Azkals to earn a point from their difficult assignment against Southeast Asia powerhouse.
“Very good match. Both sides wanted to play football. I think Thailand is more happy with 1-1 than we are, but 1-1 is okay. The most important for me as a coach was to see that we can play very good football. And we did it for 90 minutes, which we didn’t do in the last game,” said Azkals head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson via ESPN 5 as he was satisfied on the performance of his team.
Bedic meanwhile said he is ready for any scenario especially if the Swede coach decided to insert him to the game.
“Coach told me to be ready because he might use me,” Bedic quoted in another article of ESPN 5. So I just grabbed the opportunity. I knew I had to step up. I didn’t want to give up. I saw Patrick Strauss there and we ran this combination. When I turned I saw the goal and as a striker, I had no choice. I had to shoot it and try to score.”
Eriksson, on the other hand, sees a ‘’diamond in a rough’’ in the form of Bedic on why he decided to deploy the 28-year-old in the game.
“You’ll never know. I didn’t know (that he would score) when I put him in. I’ve seen him in training and I’ve seen him in many games on video, and he’s a good player. He makes things happen when he comes in. He can dribble, he’s physically strong. So I’m very happy that he scored a goal, Eriksson said in the same article.
And from their pulsating game against Thailand, the Azkals only need a favorable result from Thailand to advance to the semifinals. The War Elephants defeated Singapore 3-0 last November 25th to help the Azkals in returning to the semifinals after missing it in 2016 and despite a goalless draw against Indonesia in the same night.
“It’s not easy to play here but I think we did okay. We were not brilliant but a draw is okay. Of course, we wanted to win the game but I think Thailand had too many goals difference ahead of us. Well, we’re in the semi-finals. We haven’t lost one game so we should be happy,” Eriksson echoed via Tiebreaker Times.
The Azkals finished second on Group with eight points, just behind Group leader Thailand.
Up next for the Azkals is a two-legged semi-final against Vietnam with the former hosting the latter on December 2nd at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
Philippine-based clubs learn their fate in the AFC Cup 2019
Reigning Copa Paulino Alcantara champion Kaya Iloilo FC and one Philippine-based club learn their group assignments with the draw for the 2019 AFC Cup took place on Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last November 22nd.
Kaya FC Iloilo is assigned to Group H together with Singapore’s Home United; Laos’ Lao Toyota FC and still unknown club from Indonesia.
“It’s an exciting group. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but a challenge that the club and the players are excited for,” said Kaya FC Iloilo general manager Paul Tolentino via BusinessWorld.
“For supporters of Kaya FC and supporters of football in general, this is an exciting opportunity for them to see clubs from different countries, to see their level of football and to see how the Filipinos are really able to cope at this level, with what you could say are more experienced and seasoned opponents. The club is striving to bring matches home to Iloilo. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done to get approval from AFC to be able to play in front of the Iloilo home crowd, but we’re doing our best,” Tolentino added.
Kaya FC Iloilo earned an automatic slot in the AFC Cup in defeating the Davao Aguilas in the finals of Copa Paulino Alcantara last October. The Iloilo –based club will make their AFC Cup return after the last appearing back in 2016.
On the other hand, either the Davao Bellmare Aguilas or reigning Philippines Football League (PFL) champion Ceres-Negros FC will take the slot allotted for the Philippine-based team in Group G as they assigned together with Becamex Binh Duong of Vietnam, Shan United of Myanmar and a club from Indonesia.
Davao Bellmare Aguilas was put into the mix after finishing as first runner-up in Copa Paulino Alcantara. If Ceres-Negros FC survived the playoff stage of the 2019 AFC Champions League, the Davao-based squad will receive the slot, but if the former lost in the playoff stage of the Champions League – the Bacolod-based squad will get the slot.
In the last year’s edition of the AFC Cup, Ceres-Negros reached the ASEAN Zonal final, losing to Home United of Singapore, 3-1 on aggregate while Global-Cebu FC failed to qualify in the zonal semifinals.