The Philippines are once again safely through to the semifinal round of the AFF Suzuki Cup for the second consecutive time.
After absorbing an opening day loss to eventual group winner and host Thailand, the Azkals relied on the late-game heroics of substitute Chieffy Caligdong to salvage a win against Vietnam, before disposing of a resolute Myanmar side en route to a semi-final date with Singapore.
Here are five thoughts to ponder on the Azkals campaign so far:
1. A hungry Phil Younghusband is key to Azkals success
The pressure was squarely on the shoulders of Philip James Placer Younghusband as the Philippines lined up to face Myanmar in the all important last game of the group stages.
After being taken out of the game by a physical Thailand and being subbed off in the Vietnam game where he wasted a glorious chance at the 11th minute, all eyes were trained on the Loyola man against Myanmar.
He duly responded with a man of the match performance against the White Angels, capping off a splendid performance with an early second half goal that all but ensured progression for the Azkals.
Phil started the game with something to prove, as he tested the keeper with stinging shots from distance.
For the Azkals to continue to do well, he has to continue this form and show the hunger and work-rate that is expected from him as the best footballer on the team, and perhaps for the country.
With Denis Wolf still groping for any sort of form, the gauntlet has been thrown to Phil Younghusband to lead the line and score the goals for the team, and prove to one and all that his exclusion from the national team side in the Peace Cup was the gravest mistake the coaching staff made.
The stage is set.
Will the real Phil Younghusband please stand up, please stand up?
2. The Azkals should not be satisfied with a semis appearance
When the Azkals returned to Manila after barging into the semifinals in 2010, they were hailed as all-conquering heroes, and rightly so.
President Noynoy Aquino even had a photo-op with the team at this time, even while the team still had a two-legged semifinal to play.
The year is 2012, and much more is expected from the team. While getting out of Group A composed of Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar and into the semis is no mean feat, it is the minimum requirement considering the talent level of the team and the training that has been put in place.
Now, the Azkals and their fans should realize that we have a golden chance to go all the way to the final — and that they have a very, very good chance to win the tournament.
Singapore can be beaten, and the Azkals’ two consecutive wins against them this year will be a massive psychological boost.
While we can and must celebrate, the Azkals must now adjust and set our goals higher. A celebratory appearance in Malacañang, for instance, can wait.
President Noynoy Aquino’s presence in the home game on December 8 though, is more than welcome. He will, at least, have an Azkals 2010 jersey to wear to the game.
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