South Korea, veteran finalists of the World Cup since 1986 and incumbent runners-up of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup, was expected to roll over the wide-eyed Philippine men’s football team as initiation rites for the newcomers of Asia’s biggest football tournament. But the proud and mighty squad, the winner of 2018’s biggest upset when they vanquished Germany, 2-0, in the World Cup, won only by a hairline, 1-0, against the Azkals on Monday, January 7, 2019, at the Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai.
Third-year striker Huang Ui-jo was the recipient of the Taegeuk Warriors’ only perfect execution, scoring from point blank off an assist from Hwang Hee-chan at the 66th minute, after four shots on goal missed by Korea. But the Koreans noticeably struggled to pierce the Filipino defense, anchored on the heroic performance of Alvaro Silva, Luke Woodland, rookie keeper Michael Falkesgaard, who plays in lieu of the world-renowned Neil Etheridge.
Falkesgaard was splendid on defending the goal, saving three shots and deflecting one while Woodland blocked Korea’s first clear shot by Kim Jin-su at the 49th minute. The Koreans also had scary moments on defense, as Javi Patino, who has officially inherited the main forward position from Phil Younghusband, had the first shot on goal, kicking a haymaker at the 40th minute that was blocked by Kim Seung-gyu.
While the Koreans dominated possessions—80 per cent to 20—and showed pinpoint accuracy (95 per cent) in their short passes and set plays, the Filipinos contented themselves on parking the bus on defense and attempting on breakaways on offense. A second chance on goal came again for Patino on the 54th minute off another pass from Daisuke Sato but Kim had a hand on it again. The Azkals’ last hurrah for a draw came late in the game but Silva’s header off a corner kick by Iain Ramsay came too short.
Despite the loss, the Azkals’ first ever game in the Asian Cup is certainly a morale booster heading to their game against China on Friday, January 11. The world number 76 Dragons earlier escaped a near-upset by lowly Kyrgyzstan, 2-1, in today’s first game, as they temporarily lead Group C of the tournament.