Azkals lose anew, but hope isn’t gone

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Azkals ran into a great wall and stumbled to a painful 0-3 loss to China Friday night at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, their aspirations for the AFC Asian Cup Round-of-16 now hanging by the thread.

The Pinoy booters, who were looking to sustain the strong performance from their opening 0-1 setback to fancied Korea Republic, failed to put the defensive lid on Chinese gunner Wu Lei, who blasted two sublime goals to lead the Dragons into the next stage with a game to spare in Group C.

Sub Yu Dabao joined the scoring fray as China booked its second consecutive triumph and towed the second-running Koreans, who posted a 1-0 verdict over Kyrgyz, into the next round.  Debuting Phl now must win big against Kyrgyz in their final group game on Wednesday to keep its slim hopes of advancing to the KO stages as one of the four best third-placed teams across all groups.

“It seems strange maybe but I’m rather proud of my team even though we lost 3-0,” said Azkals coach Sven Goran Eriksson, whose wards had a 45 percent possession rate (double that of the Korea fixture) and nearly got the headstart at the 23rd when Patrick Reichelt and Patrick Strauss set up Javi Patino for a shot that was blocked by defender Feng Xiaoting.

“We played very well and we should have taken the lead,” added Eriksson, who however rued the Azkals’s costly mistake of giving Wu, the Chinese Super League’s top scorer who’s linked to a move to the Premier League, space to operate.

“Before the game, I identified three Chinese players who were very dangerous and Wu Lei was one of those. He scored two great goals as we did not pay him enough attention and we paid the price because of that,” said the veteran Swede who scrapped his customary dinner plans with his China counterpart and old pal, Marcello Lippi, in this latest encounter.  

Left open, Wu whipped a right-footed shot into the far corner to draw first blood for China five minutes before the break then doubled their lead 21 minutes after restart with a sensational volley off a Hao Junmin freekick. Yu put the game beyond Phl’s reach with a bouncing header 10 minutes before time.


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