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31st SEA Games

Azkals roar; Phl stuns Thailand in men’s handball

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Philippine Azkals book a 4-0 win over Timor Leste in the opener of the men’s football competition of the 31st SEA Games.

A fearless attacking display boosted the Philippines to a 4-0 triumph over Timor Leste at the start of men’s football at the 31st Southeast Asian Games at the Viet Tri Stadium in Phu Tho, Vietnam, on Friday.

Over at Tuan Chau Island in Quang Nihn Province, the men’s handball team also opened its campaign on a high note with an 18-16, 18-16 upset of Thailand, which clinched silver in 2019 behind Vietnam.

But the Filipino beach handball athletes, who completed the podium at home in 2019, will put their mettle to a test against the host and defending champions on Saturday.

Goals from Christian Rontini, Dennis Chung, Jovin Bedic and Oskari Kekkonen propelled coach Norman Fegidero’s side to its first victory in a tough Group A that also includes defending champion and host Vietnam, 2019 runner-up Indonesia and Myanmar.

Rontini opened the scoring with a pinpoint header off captain Stephan Schrock’s cross in the 11th minute, but it wasn’t until the second half when the under-23 Azkals finally put the Timorese to the sword.

“It’s always going to be difficult going into the tournament because we don’t know exactly where we are as a team, but everyone showed a lot of commitment and discipline,” Schrock said.

“The boys did very well.”

The Filipinos have a one-day break before taking on the Vietnamese on Sunday in a match that could determine their chances of advancing to the semifinals.

“We sleep, eat and we go again,” said Schrock, expressing confidence in a strong showing against the hosts.

The Philippines almost doubled the lead in the 35th minute when Sandro Reyes released Bedic down the middle only for the Kaya FC Iloilo striker to spray his shot wide.

Except for an early chance, Timor Leste hardly had a sight on goal as the Philippines dominated proceedings at midfield.

Chung, who tested the Timorese goalkeeper twice in the first half, finally got on the scoresheet in the 56th minute thanks to another fine ball from Schrock.

Bedic made it 3-0 in the 78th minute, showing strength and skill in holding off defenders before finding the back of the net. Kekkonen netted a fourth with a powerful strike in the middle after being teed up by Oli Bias nine minutes from time.

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