Red cards, goals told the story

Irfan Bachdim and Chieffy Caligdong both drew red cards.

The three red cards and the four goals in an enthralling game of football between the Philippine Azkals national team and the young Indonesian national squad in themselves told the story not merely of the intense, competitive nature of the match but rather the fact that today the Philippines is no longer a pushover in a sport long neglected by those in office.

Following a scoreless draw against Suzuki Cup and Southeast Asian Games champions Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur on June 1, the Azkals performance of coming back twice from being a goal down against Indonesia who were runners up in the last SEA Games and their tormentor in the last Suzuki Cup semi finals winning both legs by a single goal scored by the Indons' naturalized Uruguayan.

Both legs had to be played in Jakarta because of lack of playing facilities that met international standards, enabling the Indons to feed off a crowd of some 85,000 fans. But Tuesday's 2-2 draw spoke volumes about the new-found confidence of the Azkals and their competitive ability.

This was not a team that effectively parked a bus in front of goal and sought to salvage a draw or at least keep their opponents from scoring too many goals. Here was a squad that dominated possession with some resolute tackling and pinpoint passing much of the time after they won the ball.

The Indonesians, averaging under 25 years of age and giving the football-crazy nation a new face and a promising new look had their moments and showed an uncanny ability to pounce on the slightest mistake made by the Azkals to score. It provided a glimpse of how good and dangerous these youngsters could be when the Suzuki Cup comes around later this year.

The Indonesians, in the face of the Filipinos dominance in terms of possession, were deadly on the counter-attack.

Their first goal was a perfect header into the top corner of the net beyond the reach of English Premier League club Fulham's  reserve goal keeper Neil Etheridge. If anything the excellent cross from Oktovianus Maniani caught the Philippine defense by surprise as they made the fundamental mistake of watching the ball and not marking their men.

The 57th minute goal after a scoreless first half on a perfect playing field at the Rizal Memorial Stadium stunned the Azkals but more so their impassioned fans.  Despite the rains and the overcast skies that threatened a downpour hours before the match, the game drew around 7,000 fans on a working day including a tightly-knit, flag-waving group of Indonesian supporters.

The Philippines' one-two punch of brothers Phil and James Younghusband came off the bench in the second half along with Etheridge, who replaced Roland Muller who was hardly threatened in the first half together with the talented duo of Dennis Cagara and Jerry Lucena.

It didn't take too long for the changes to provide results as a defensive lapse by the Indonesians allowed James Younghusband to pounce on the ball and drill a cracker into the top of the net that gave Indonesian goalkeeper Markus Maulana no chance at all.

After the long striding Angel Guirado who worked tirelessly saw a long shot batted out by an alert Maulana for a corner which  went to waste. The Indonesians launched a swift counter-attack that resulted in their star player, skipper Irfan Bachdim,   cut in from the left flank, race past Cagara and beat Etheridge in a one-on-one matchup where the tall Azkals keeper had no chance at all of making a stop to give the Indonesians a 2-1 lead.

Azkals skipper Chieffy Caligdong, who continues to get knocked around by the defenders of  stronger teams and appears to be taken out of his rhythm, was guilty of a shove in a heated confrontation with Bachdim after Misagh Bahadoran, the Filipino-Iranian youngster who was racing on the left flank, was brought down by a nasty foul in the 81st minute as the Azkals launched wave after wave of attacks searching for the equalizer.

A small-scale melee erupted with the Indonesian officials racing onto the pitch not to calm the players but to confront the Azkals players. After the referee was able to sort things out, Bachdim was given a red card along with Caligdong and Manny Ott who played a terrific game in midfield, ripping off his jersey in disgust after he too received what seemed like an unwarranted red card.

Down to nine men, one less than the Indonesians, the Azkals bit back in a hurry when an exquisite free kick by Cagara found James Younghusband who, as he has so often done in the past, headed the ball to ace scorer, brother Phil, who hammered it home in the 84th minute.

Under pressure the Indonesians were hell-bent on salvaging a draw and with it their reputation and used every opportunity to feign injury in a time-wasting ploy that saw the match end in a 2-2 draw.

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