MANILA – The Philippine Azkals scrambled for two goals in the closing half to stun Tajikistan, 2-1, and advance into the semifinals of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup at the Halchowk Stadium in Kathmandu.
Earlier, the Azkals defeated India, 2-0.
Reports from Kathmandu stated that Phil Younghusband’s goal in the 53rd minute put back life into the Azkals’ drive and tied the Persian Lions at 1-1, before Angel Guirado scored on a header in the 80th to seal the win for the Filipinos.
The Azkals was to face Group A topnotcher Turkmenistan in the semifinals later.
The Azkals held a 2-1 lead with 15 minutes left.
When Japanese referee Ryuji Sato blew the whistle to signal their win, pandemonium erupted in the stadium inside the Nepal Armed Police Force.
Coach Michael Weiss hailed the team for their feat.
Team Captain Chieffy Caligdong emptied a water bottle on a jubilant team manager Dan Palami. James Younghusband waved a giant Philippine flag as the Filipinos in the crowd started singing the Lupang Hinirang.
The Azkals were already booked to fly back to Manila but they had to reset their return flight after their record win.
The Azkals is actually the lowest ranked team in the Group of Death but it finished with a 2-0-1 win-draw-loss slate for six points, good for second behind North Korea’s nine points (3-0-0).
“It’s indescribable. I can’t say much. This is the first time we’ve been able to get to this tournament after having gone through pre-qualifier, qualifiers and now we’re in the semis. It’s unbelievable considering the kind of preparations we had,” said an ecstatic Palami after the team’s victory.
Tajikistan drew first blood with a header by defender Alexey Negmatov in the first minute of first half injury time, a goal that was disputed by the Azkals in vain.
But the Azkals came out fiercer after the break.
Phil Younghusband, fresh from a brace in their 2-0 win over India two days ago, slotted in the equalizer off a pass by Angel Guirado nine minutes into the second half.
Guirado, a man besieged by allegation of “sexual harassment” back home, delivered a header off a cross from the right that put the Azkals ahead at the 80th.