by Jonas Terrado
Game Friday (Mohammad bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi)
9:30 p.m. – Philippines vs China
The Philippine Azkals flirted at a gigantic upset of two-time champion South Korea before absorbing a 1-0 defeat Monday night in an impressive debut in the Asian Cup at the Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai.
A crack in the Azkals defense that looked impenetrable from the onset allowed Hwang Ui-Jo to score the marginal goal in the 67th minute that enabled South Korea to avoid a disappointing result against a Philippine side playing in its first-ever match in the continental competition.
Hwang’s close-range shot denied the Azkals of securing at least a point after putting a strong defensive effort at the back led by defenders Alvaro Silva, Luke Woodland and Stephen Palla and goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard.
Javier Patino almost gave the Azkals the lead, but his two attempts were denied by South Korean keeper Kim Seung-gyu in both halves.
South Korea, runner-up to Australia in the 2015 Asian Cup, made sure it end up getting the full three points as Hwang Hee-Chan found a way to get past the determined Silva and set up Hwang’s goal that hit the roof of the net.
Little was expected from the Azkals, who prior to kickoff was a huge underdog against the South Korean side that remained formidable despite the absence of English Premier League standout Heung-Min Son of Tottenham.
But the moral victory should raise the level of expectation for the Azkals, who are seeking at least a third place finish in Group C for a chance of making the round-of-16 of the competition.
They head to Abu Dhabi for Friday’s match against China before returning to Dubai for the Jan. 16 clash with Kyrgyzstan.
The other Group C match saw China surviving Kyrgyzstan, 2-1, after conceding the opening goal early in the contest.
South Korea’s slim win was one of many surprising results to begin the Asian Cup after Jordan stunned 2015 winner Australia and India defeating Thailand that led to the sacking of the latter’s coach after the match.