Before the match even started, the Philippines were already counted out by many football pundits, who even went to say that they would concede four or five goals against a star-studded South Korean national team.
Despite the odds being against their favor, the Azkals still went out with full pride against the Taeguk Warriors and displayed a performance worthy of respect across the continent, as it took 67 minutes for the 2015 Asian Cup runners-up to score a goal.
In their historic debut for the tournament, the Philippines fielded what could be their strongest and experienced line-up yet as they were able to get the services of Sepsi OSK's defender Daisuke Sato, Aue Erzgebirge's midfield John Patrick Strauss, and Buriram United's striker Javier Patiño, who collectively made up for the missing Neil Etheridge between the posts.
The match started out with the Korea Republic dominating the possession as well as attacking the final third of the Azkals. A breakthrough almost came as early as seven minutes into the match when a free kick by Ki Sung-Yueng found its way into the box, but the strikers missed the tip in.
Ki was on the offensive again on the 10th minute, where he shot from outside the box, but his attempt was deflected out by Alvaro Silva for a corner, but it made some hearts leap as it was just inches wide into the goal.
On the other side of the pitch, the Philippines caught the Taeguk Warriors on the counter when Sato crossed the ball, but it was headed out. A clearance from the left side of the pitch saw the ball reaching Manny Ott just outside the box, but his shot went to the left side of the post.
The 15th minute almost saw a goal from Korea as a lovely piece of play from Hwang Hee Chan and Koo Ja Cheol made its way into the box, but the ball was cleared again for the corner by Silva.
The danger was imminent on the 31st minute when the Koreans won a free kick from a dangerous position. Jung Woo-Young took the shot, but it was inches away from the frame of the goal.
They forced Michael Falkesgaard to stretch his arms for the save on the 40th minute as another build-up of play found its way to Hwang Ui-Jo, who twisted and took a shot but Falkesgaard saved it well.
A counter-attack saw the Philippines coming real close from scoring as Sato intercepted the ball in the middle of the park. He moved the ball forward then crossed the ball to Patiño, who shot the ball first time, but his volleyed effort bounced towards the keeper's palms.
At the half, the Koreans looked a bit surprised and frustrated that all of their efforts just couldn't go in. It truly shows how remarkable the Philippine defence was.
Towards the second half of the match, the Taeguk Warriors were still knocking on the doors until a scuffle inside the box resulted to an opening for Hwang who slotted it past Silva and Falkesgaard. From then on, the Koreans didn't hold back nor let the Azkals gain some type of possession.
Despite the defeat, Filipinos back home, as well as the ones who attended the match inside the stadium, were simply brimming of confidence, pride and happiness as they saw their team hold the ranked 56 in the FIFA world rankings to just a goal in that match.
One can also commend the tremendous effort of the Philippines' team captain Stephan Schrock, who seemed like more of a Premier League player himself than Korea's Ki Sung-Yueng. He's a work-horse himself and has been the spark plug of this squad.Published 08 Jan 2019, 12:50 IST