by Jonas Terrado
A historic trip to the AFF Suzuki Cup finals eluded the Philippine Azkals yet again as Vietnam prevailed 4-2 on aggregate following a 2-1 win in Thursday’s second leg of their semifinal tie at My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi.
Hopes of a sequel to the “Miracle of Hanoi” that occurred eight years ago disappeared when Nguyen Quan Hai and Nguyen Cong Phuong struck late goals that rocked a big crowd in the Vietnamese capital.
James Younghusband’s goal near added time proved to be too late for the Philippines, which suffered a fourth semifinal defeat in Southeast Asia’s prestigious competition.
Vietnam, which took a 2-1 victory in the first leg last Sunday in Bacolod City, will face Malaysia in a two-legged final for the Suzuki Cup crown which starts on Dec. 11 in Kuala Lumpur.
The return leg is set Dec. 15 in Hanoi.
Malaysia made it to the finals after a heart-stopping 2-2 draw over dethroned two-time champion Thailand in Bangkok the other night.
The Malaysians advanced due to an away goals advantage after Adisak Kraison’s penalty near the final whistle sailed over the bar, ending Thailand’s quest for a third straight title.
Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson’s first tournament in charge began on a promising note when the Azkals placed second behind Thailand in Group B with two wins and draws.
But the departures of European-based players Neil Etheridge, Stephen Palla, Daisuke Sato and Patrick Strauss proved to be crucial for the Azkals in the games that mattered.
Attention now shifts on the Philippines’ preparation for next month’s AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates where the Azkals will compete for the first time.