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Azkals shut out Myanmar 2-0 to enter Suzuki Cup semis

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It’s sweeter the second time around.

The Philippine Azkals lived up to the promise as they booked a return trip to the semifinals of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup with a historic 2-nil win over Myanmar late Friday night at the end of the group stages at the Supachalasai National Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Azkals’ first win over Myanmar after three draws and eight losses since 1971 rewarded them with the first ever Suzuki Cup semifinal match at home, which was denied in 2010 against Indonesia for lack of suitable playing venue.

Star striker Phil Younghusband finally broke out from his personal slump to score his first goal in the tournament just one minute past the halftime break.

Jason de Jong, who boosted the midfield play of the Azkals after cracking the starting XI in the past two games, served a long volley to Younghusband inside the box. With great ball control, Younghusband made up for his early struggles in the tournament with a thundering shot – his 28th international goal – using his left foot sending the small yet loud Filipino gallery into pandemonium.

Angel Guirado, who assisted Chieffy Caligdong’s goal against Vietnam two nights earlier, this time, sealed the deal for the Azkals after outracing Myanmar’s defense and outfoxing the keeper in a one-on-one situation late in the injury time.

Ed Sacapano tallied another clean sheet for the Azkals for the second straight match that more than made up for his two goals allowed in their lone setback to the host and Group A winner Thailand in the opener.

The Azkals went for the win despite only needing a draw to secure the semifinals seat after Thailand smothered Vietnam, 3-1, in the other match that was played simultaneously in the Rajamangala Stadium.

Sorely missing Jerry Lucena, who was recalled by his Danish club, and Ray Jonsson, who was down with quadriceps injury, the Azkals were tested earlier in the first half. Myanmar’s swift crosses dangerously threatened inside the penalty box. 

But in what is turning out to be the Azkals’ trademark here in the tournament, they regrouped well in the second half for the spectacular finish.

Rob Gier and Juani Guirado again played a solid, no-relief job anchoring the backline defense saved for one slip-up that nearly cost a goal.  In what was the closest chance of Myanmar to draw level deep into the second half, substitute Seo Kyaw Kyaw was left unmarked but unfortunately headed the ball wide, much to the relief of the Azkals.  

Thailand finished on top of Group A with nine points via sweep while the Azkals grabbed the second semis berth with six points after claiming the scalps of top-ranked ASEAN country in Vietnam, 1-0, and group stage qualifier Myanmar.

The country will host the first leg on Dec. 8 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, which underwent minor repairs, against the Group B winner.

Indonesia is on top of Group B with four points while the defending champion Malaysia and Singapore are still in the running with three points each heading into their final group stage matches today.

Singapore will take on cellar-dweller Laos while the 2010 final protagonists Malaysia and Indonesia square off in the other match. 

The Azkals will fly home today and are expected to receive a heroes' welcome a day after the country celebrated Bonifacio day.  (From