Friday, 17 February 2012

Azkals run Australian team close in final Dubai friendly

By Ares P. Gutierrez
Copy Editor, Gulf News

Australia’s Olympic team survived a resilient Philippine Azkals and held on for a 1-0 win in a friendly that capped the south-east Asian national side’s 10-day Middle East training camp at the Al Maktoum Stadium on Thursday evening.

An 11th-minute goal from striker Jason Hoffman, who plays for the Melbourne Heart in the A-League, was all the Olyroos needed to stave off a late scare from the Azkals, who played without their star striker Phil Younghusband.

The Olyroos, who needed a win to boost their morale going into this week’s London Olympics group stage qualifier against the UAE, stepped on the gas early in the match as the Filipinos put up a deep defensive line.

A cross by Aziz Behich enabled his Melbourne teammate Hoffman to head one over Fulham goalkeeper Neil Etheridge to break the deadlock in the 11th minute.

The Olyroos dominated the first half, but an improved Azkals, who were hammered 3-0 by the Uzbeks last Saturday, frustrated the Aussies’ attempts to live up to their pre-match billing that they would also dominate the minnows.

Tweaking his unit in the second half, Azkals manager Hans Michael Weiss replaced Ian Araneta and brought in Ruben Doctora to further fortify their defensive line, but Aurelio Vidmar’s boys continued to shine.

Brisbane Roar’s attacking midfielder Mitch Nichols eluded defenders Jason Sabio and Angel Guirado, but was stopped by Carli de Murga. Daniel John Mullen of Adelaide United gave the Azkals another warning when he went close with a header.

Nearly turned the tables

The Azkals nearly turned the tables on the Olyroos when German-Filipino right winger Denis Wolf linked up with Doctora on a counter-attack and came close to forcing a draw.

“Mission accomplished. The plan of the camp was to put the players in pressure situations, having to play three matches in six days, which will be the same in the [AFC] Challenge Cup next month in Kathmandu, Nepal,” Azkals manager Weiss told reporters in a post-match briefing.

The Azkals left for Manila Friday morning and will regroup for another friendly against Malaysia on February 29 before opening their Challenge Cup campaign on March 9.

The Olyroos, meanwhile, are set to go up against the UAE Under-23s on Wednesday.

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