It was about midway through the first half of the encounter between the Philippines and Indonesian when rain fell, first in a light drizzle, and then gradually evolving into a steady pour, as sheets upon sheets of rain soaked the immaculate pitch of the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
The rains certainly dampened the clothes of the players as well as the thousands of fans in attendance, but it did little to dampen their spirits. For after a relatively quiet and uneventful first half came an explosive finish that featured a combined four goals and three red cards from both teams as the match between the squads ended in a 2-2 stalemate.
Mere days after forging a scoreless draw in another friendly match against Malaysia, the Azkals found themselves in a similar predicament against the Merah Putih after both teams failed to barge into the scoreboard in the first half of action. The exchange of goals between the teams would be initiated by the crimson-clad Indonesians, as forward Patrick Wanggai’s header at the 56th minute from a cross by midfielder Oktovianus Maniani allowed them to grab the lead at 1-0.
But it only took the Azkals mere seconds before they found their stride. A goal by James Younghusband a minute after the restart evened the count at 1-1, sending their fans into a frenzied celebration. The Indonesians, however, were far from done, and their team captain, Dutch-Indonesian forward Ifran Bachdim, scuttled past the defence to net their second goal of the night and put them in the driver’s seat once more at 2-1.
Tempers then flared in one of the ensuing possessions as a scuffle between the two teams resulted in the handing out of three red cards, to both of the team captains, Bachdim and Chieffy Caligdong, and another to Azkals midfielder Manny Ott.
The sending offs gave the Merah Putih a one-man advantage on the pitch, but instead of being able to exploit this advantage, it was the home team who fought back, finally securing another equalizer at the 84th minute of action courtesy of midfielder Phil Younghusband.
The 2-2 deadlock between the two teams would remain until the final whistle, despite efforts from both teams, especially the Azkals, to nail the game-winning goal.
“This is a strong team full of tall players, and our team is young, so we can live with a draw and keep our heads up,” said Bachdim, who is one of only two players who were part of the Indonesian team that faced and defeated the Azkals twice in the semifinals of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, the other being goalkeeper Markus Maulana.
“We showed great character, especially towards the end,” said James Younghusband, “this is an exciting time for Philippine Football.”
“We know what we are capable of, but we are trying different options at this point,” said Azkals mentor Michael Weiss, who tinkered with his starting line-up in preparation for the upcoming Suzuki Cup by fielding Dennis Caraga, Marwin Angeles, and goalkeeper Roland Muller in the first half, electing to field the Younghusband brothers and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge only during the second half of action.
“We can live with this draw and move forward, and we’re looking forward to face Guam in our next game,” Weiss finished, referring to the Azkals’ next match against Guam, which will be held this June 12 at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod.