One of three AFC Asian Cup debutants, the Philippine Azkals, was given a rude introduction to the tournament by the Korea Republic in their opening group stage match at Rashid Al-Maktoum Stadium on Monday night.

As expected, the touches, time of possession, and game in general were dominated by the higher ranked Koreans, but they were not without a mighty performance out of the underdog Azkals, translating into an entertaining and physical encounter.

With the match going into the half scoreless on both sides, it was a second half goal from Hwang Ui-io which gave the Koreans the advantage, en-route to three pivotal points in the group, though the Filipino footballers did put up a gallant stand.

The Gamba Osaka forward was able to convert on a close-range attempt, fooling two Azkal defenders, before scoring over Philippine goalie Michael Falkesgaard in the 67th minute to finally break the scoring drought and give his side the goal they had been threatening for all game long.

Despite a large discrepancy in terms of stats between the two sides: 16 total shots from Korea (five on target) to the Philippines’ six (two on target), 82 percent possession for Korea to the Philippines’ 18 percent, and 782 completed passes for the Koreans to 174 for the Filipinos, the Azkals were able to withstand the pressure and stand to-to-toe with the Taeguk Warriors for the majority of the contest.

Aside from the scored goal, the Philippines’ defensive line was especially impressive, turning out a solid performance which was instrumental in starting counter-attack opportunities during stretches of the match, even if the team ultimately failed to capitalize on them in the end.

Following the heartbreaking defeat, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side must now set their sights on a China team which is fresh off a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Kyrgyzstan. The two teams will faceoff on Friday evening.

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