By ROY MOORE, GMA News
Beginning the tournament with hopes of reaching the semi finals of the football competition in the 26th Souteast Asian Games, the Junior Azkals instead finished bottom of the group after losing 2-1 to Brunei Tuesday night.
The Junior Azkals started the game the on a high note, fashioning more chances in a very open game. They took the lead when Joshua Beloya controlled a ball from Mark Hartmann to take it past his man and drive into the far corner of the net in the 9th minute. Brunei came back strongly, though, with Adi Said soon equalizing as they passed through the Azkals midfield with ease before Adi controlled well and shot past PHL keeper Roland Müller to bring the scores level in the 18th minute.
The Junior Azkals dominated much of the first half but just couldn’t find the back of the net. Brunei’s goalkeeper made a fantastic save from Joshua Beloya who beat his defender and shot from just over six yards out but the keeper kept a strong hand to deflect it away from the goal. Next, OJ Clarino, who had several chances blocked beforehand, found himself free at the back post and took Beloya’s cross well. His shot looked goalbound until a defender slid in to deflect the ball for a corner.
Clarino had another chance from the corner which was floated in, the keeper touching it away into the path of the University of Sto. Tomas forward whose lofted shot went just past the post. Despite having the majority of shots and possessions, the Azkals then went behind against the run of play though.
Brunei had a goal disallowed for offside before going ahead. They scored when an innocuous free-kick was spilled by Roland Müller into the path of Reduan to tap in the rebound on the 42nd minute. The Philippines’ man of the match in the game against Vietnam, Müller has made mistakes in two consecutive games.
Brunei’s second goal also means the Junior Azkals have conceded at least two goals in every game at the SEA Games, showing their defensive problems and the root of their struggles. Individually the players have shown quality but not yet together as a team. Not creating another solid chance before the break the team went into half-time 2-1 down.
Both teams passed the ball around well in the second half but couldn’t fashion a clear cut chance. Jeffrey Christiaens subbed for OJ Clarino and brought some life back into the team. Driving forward soon after his introduction, he struck the crossbar as he picked the ball up on the right wing, cut inside and unleashed a rocket which left the bar shaking.
After that shot Brunei threatened on the counter and Adi Said raced to catch a long ball with Jason De Jong in chase. Roland Müller came out of his goal and cleared the danger but was inadvertently hit by his defender and stayed down for a short time. Brave goalkeeping, the ball was then sent upfield and the Junior Azkals again created a chance, Christiaens touching the ball down eloquently for Joshua Beloya to shoot, but he was again blocked by the Brunei defense.
The future of the U23s
Despite the poor performance in the SEA Games, there are still some encouraging signs. Many players, including OJ Clarino, Porteria, Beloya and Christiaens showed some great individual skill and will all be available for the next SEA Games.
With the right preparation the team can build on this experience and reach its true potential by battling for Semi Final qualification in two years. – OMG, GMA News