Four-star Philippines begin their Suzuki Cup campaign in style
Southeast Asia's highest ranked nation Philippines started their AFF Suzuki Cup campaign with a bang, coming from behind to beat Laos 4-1 at Hanoi's My Dinh Stadium.
The group A match kicked off the month-long tournament that is co-hosted by Vietnam and Singapore.
The Philippines started well, creating a chance within 60 seconds. One-time Chelsea trainee Phil Younghusband was surprised to find himself in an onside position. But the striker drove the ball wide of the Laos goalkeeper Saynakhonevieng Phommapnya.
The effort set the tone for the early stages with the Azkals finding space in front of the Laos defence with midfielder Martin Steuble and defender Simone Rota looking dangerous down the right flank. Laos keeper Saynakhonevieng looked nervy between the sticks.
Laos were struggling to get a foothold in the game. They were looking neat and tidy in possession but with just Khampeng Sayayuth playing up front, possession broke down too often for the liking of their English coach Dave Booth.
Against the run of play, Laos took the lead on 19 minutes. Awarded a free-kick some 25 yards out, striker Khampeng saw his well-struck effort palmed on to the inside of the post by Philippines keeper Patrick Deyto only for the ball to nestle into the back of the net.
The Azkals' pressure paid off on 40 minutes when Rota had a free header from a free-kick to level the scores.
Five minutes later, Philippines turned the game on its head. Younghusband, who had been influential throughout the first half, got the goal his performance merited. He nodded home from 12 yards after fine work down the left by Jerry Lucena to make it 2-1 at the break.
The second half was a continuation of the first with the Philippines getting men forward at every opportunity.
For inspiration, Laos were looking to striker Khampeng who plies his trade with Ang Thong in neighboring Thailand. On 63 minutes, he had a glorious opportunity to level scores but he failed to connect with a fine cross along the six-yard line and perhaps Laos' final chance had gone.
There was always a sense the Philippines would finish the game the stronger of the two and that is what happened.
With 13 minutes left some good work by Younghusband found substitute Patrick Reichelt who made it 3-1.
The same combination came up trumps with a minute remaining, Reichelt left with a simple tap in to put the game beyond Laos.
After the game Philippines coach Thomas Dooley said that when coaches make substitutions, they hope the player coming on can add something to the team. This time, he smiled, it was "perfect".
The Philippines will play their second Group A game on Nov. 25 against Indonesia. Laos will face Vietnam on the same day.