(Hien Truong Stadium)
8:30 p.m. Philippines vs Myanmar
(My Dinh Stadium)
8:30 p.m. Singapore vs Vietnam
HANOI—Philippines skipper Aly Borromeo emerged from the dugout wearing a sheepish smile and shaking his head – apparently in disbelief.
If it took a while for the Philippines’ biggest win in football in recent years to sink in, it was understandable.
Long considered one of the weakest teams in Southeast Asia, the Filipinos achieved the improbable Sunday night when they shut out defending champion Vietnamese, 2-0, in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup at the My Dinh Stadium here.
Before a hostile crowd of close to 40,000, Chris Greatwich scored for the second straight game, before Phil Younghusband struck in the second half as the Filipinos pulled off the biggest upset in the 16-year history of the competition.
And for one chilly night, this football-mad Northern Vietnam city belonged to a Philippine team composed of local and foreign-bred players who entered the tournament with little expectations.
“Beating Vietnam is just unbelievable,” said Borromeo, who couldn’t help but look back at a time when the team was just struggling not to lose by big margins in the tournament.
“I just couldn’t believe that we made history. There was a time when we just struggled to get good results in this tournament.”
It was only the second win by the Filipinos in this tournament, after a 2-1 victory over Timor Leste in the 2004 tournament.
With four points from two matches, the Filipino booters now find themselves in an unlikely position at the top of the group, needing just a draw against Myanmar on Wednesday to advance to the home-and-away semifinals.
“It’s a new era for Philippine football,” said team manager Dan Palami, who has been bankrolling the team since last year. “I’m just happy we are creating believers out of this team.”
The Filipinos can even top the group – a remote possibility a few weeks ago considering that the team needed to go through the qualifying stage – with a victory over the winless Burmese side.
The Filipinos’ upset of the Vietnamese muddled up the pre-tournament order that had Vietnam and Singapore advancing to the semifinals with ease.
A resolute defensive stand and timely counter-attacks keyed the Filipinos’ triumph against a Vietnamese side that smashed Myanmar, 7-1, Sunday.
“The players stuck to the plan, which was to eliminate the speed of Vietnam and score on the counter-attack,” said Palami. “The team has been very resilient and we have proven that against Singapore and now, Vietnam. We didn’t buckle to the pressure of playing against a big crowd and a really good Vietnamese team.”
Despite Vietnam owning the lion’s share of possession, it was the Philippines which conjured the first real chance when Borromeo fed Ian Araneta from a corner kick only for the Iloilo-born striker to hit the wrong side of the post in the 19th minute.
Anton del Rosario’s cross found an unmarked Greatwich, whose diving header in the 37th minute found the bottom corner and drowned the cheers of the huge crowd.
A last-minute addition to the team, Greatwich also scored in injury time to force the remarkable 1-1 draw against Singapore last Thursday.
Vietnam had at least three chances to claim an equalizer but they were either denied by an inspired Neil Etheridge or quelled by the stellar back four of Del Rosario, Borromeo Ray Jonnson and Rob Gier, who had played through despite a fever the past two days.
Roel Gener proved a worthy replacement for the injured Chieffy Caligdong, helping out in a compact midfield where Fil-Dutch Jason de Jong also made a solid contribution.
Etheridge bravely stopped a close-range rocket from substitute Trong Hoang Nguyen in the 64th minute in what was Vietnam’s clearest goal-scoring opportunity.
Doubtful on the day of the match because of food poisoning that forced him to stay up all night and vomit, Younghusband mustered enough strength to put the game to bed with a curling left-footed shot from 10 yards in the 79th minute.
The goal was a flowing move that started with Ian Araneta crossing the ball to a rushing Greatwich, who laid it off for Younghusband, who faked his defender to gain space to shoot.
“It was pleasing we were able to withstand the pressure,” said the Philippines’ English coach Simon McMenemy. “It was a total team effort. We were able to deny them space in the middle of the pitch. I said it before that I would be happy if we would be competitive and fortunately being competitive has given us four points here.” Photo from AFF Suzuki Cup Website