The national men’s football team remains defiant despite getting off to a rusty start following a 1-2 loss to Singapore to open its AFF Suzuki Cup campaign at the Singapore National Stadium late Wednesday.
Azkals coach Stewart Hall of Great Britain said their stinging loss to the home team will definitely fire them up as they continue to hunt their momentum in Southeast Asia’s biggest football showpiece.
Although it was a bitter pill to swallow, Hall admitted that their lousy backline defense prompted the Singaporeans to take advantage and snatch back-to-back goals in the 61st and 64th minute of the second half.
“If you look at it, we’ve got beaten in three minutes. We had crazy, silly three minutes and thrown away 87 minutes of hard work,” Hall said.
“Two flick-ons from the corner and the marking wasn’t good enough. And then, a mistake in the halfway line where we couldn’t get the ball out on the transition and we gave it away.”
The Azkals defense, which was expected to serve as their main asset heading into the tourney, led to their downfall as Singaporean strikers Gabriel Quak and Zulfahmi Arifin bombarded the backline with multiple attempts.
Although goalkeeper Kevin Mendoza kept the coast clear to a nil-nil first half, the FIlipino side committed defensive lapses in the late into the match that cost them the victory.
Singaporean skipper and Lion City Sailor FC star Hariss Harun broke the deadlock after skying a header from a corner kick in the 61st minute.
Then, Singapore stepped on the gas as it quickly stole Azkals’ possession in the kickoff, allowing Faris Ramli to convert another header from Zulqarnaen Suzliman’s cross at the 64th minute.
It took the Filipinos five more minutes to finally convert a goal with Amin Nazari hitting the back of the net from Kevin Ingreso’s corner kick.
Skipper Stephan Schrock and Angel Guirado heaved one last push to create a late-game equalizer, but they muffed their attempts that could have led to a draw.
With the loss, the Azkals are now at the bottom of Pool A with Timor Leste while Singapore gained pool leadership with six points on its card.
The national squad still has a chance to bounce back when it returns to action against Timor Leste on Sunday.
“We knew the first 15 to 20 minutes would be difficult but we set out for that and thought we coped with that very well,” Hall said.
“In that period, by the way, they had the referee as well which we didn’t think would happen but it did. But that’s football, you have to learn from that.”