- Written by Jill Espiritu
Bacolod City, Philippines - The fairy tale match for the Matao, Guam men’s national soccer team, could have had a happier ending for the island.
In 90 full minutes plus a total of three injury-time minutes, the Matao held down its higher-ranked opponents, the Azkals, to three goals, but was unable to capitalize on various scoring opportunities conceding the win to the Philippines in front of thousands of screaming fans at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
“We’re a bit disappointed with the result, but I’m absolutely proud of our boys for battling it out in the second half to a 0-0 draw,” said Matao captain Jason Cunliffe in a post-match interview. “We had them on their back foot for a good majority of that half. Overall, it was a great game and I’m proud of our boys for battling to the end.”
The Azkals took advantage of gaps in the Matao defense, with a goal by Angel Guirado in the seventh minute of play. Carlos Alberto Martinez de Murga earned his first-ever goal for the Azkals in the 14th minute to give his team a 2-0 advantage. The Azkals wouldn’t strike again until the extra minute of injury time in the first half with Guirado breaking free from the Matao defense after an Azkals’ free kick to score off an uncontested header that managed to find the back of the net.
“We knew the first 15 minutes would be difficult,” said Matao head coach Gary White. “We had some bad marking which we really fixed at half time.
“The idea was to come here to expand and grow as a team. I think that this game has done a lot for our team’s development,” added White, who had taken the head coach position for Guam in February of this year.
Key saves by Matao goalkeeper Dallas Jaye, including cradling the ball outside of the goal box with the Azkals’ Jason De Jong at full sprint, helped shut down the Azkals in the second half. Defensive substitutions Christian Schweizer and Scott Leon Guerrero assisted greatly in limiting shots on goal by the Philippine side.
“If the fourth goal was coming early, I think it will be a higher score (than 3-0), said Michael Weiss, the Azkals’ head coach, in a post-match interview. “But, we should be satisfied. We dominated the match very clearly and we had many, many goal scoring opportunities. I told the players ahead of the game I heard that winning less than 3-0 is disappointing. I find that disrespectful. We had the 3-0, but you saw here we had more chances. We could have won 5-0, but we had a satisfying result.
“We shouldn’t think that the trees are growing into the heavens – we should go step-by-step. We still have a lot to work on in order to be a more competitive team. If I compare, the last time I was sitting here was my first match against Mongolia and it was on the 15th of January 2011, almost one-and-a-half years ago. We’ve made fantastic, tremendous improvement. I’m very proud of the team. I think this team has even much more potential,” he added.
Despite the loss, the Matao made its way around the track surrounding the field to thank all the fans in the stands for their support, including a group of supporters from Guam. The Philippines team followed shortly after with their small parade around the stadium.
The Matao has two more games during its excursion in the Philippines. The team plays Global FC Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Rizal Stadium in Manila. The team will once again face Guirado and Martinez de Murga, scorers for the Azkals, as both Spanish players play for second-ranked Global FC in the Philippines’ United Football League. Sunday’s 7 p.m. match, also at Rizal Stadium, will pit the Matao against the Stallion Gilligan’s, another first division team in the UFL. The Stallion FC roster includes a handful of Korean players.