Led by world football superstar David Beckham, Major League Soccer champions Los Angeles Galaxy stamped its class in Philippine soil, whipping the Philippine Azkals, 6-1, in the biggest match of this basketball-crazy country’s football history Saturday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Galaxy had a sluggish start, almost letting the Azkals score the first goal with barely two minutes into the match. But the recently crowned champs finally got their game going midway in the first half, as Beckham curled a trademark goal from outside the box in the 20th minute; something which he claims he hasn’t done “in years.”
“I was happy with the goal tonight,” said Beckham, whose future with the Galaxy remains uncertain after his five-year contract expires at the end of this year.
The Azkals came out roaring after Beckham’s goal, as stars Chieffy Caligdong and Phil Younghusband had three straight chances of equalizing the match, but they all went way off the goal. They then crumbled in the defensive side in the 38th minute, as Mike Magee scored a goal off a Landon Donovan pass to give the Galaxy a comfortable 2-0 lead.
But local football star Younghusband put the game within reach, blasting a goal against the defense of Galaxy’s AJ Delagarza in the 41st minute to close the gap at 2-1 after the first half, thrilling the thousands of Filipino spectators who witnessed the match in the stadium.
“It’s a dream for me (to score the goal),” said Younghusband, who scored the Philippines’ lone goal of the match.
Fatigue caught up on the Azkals in the second half as they failed to outmatch the taller, more skilled and more experienced Galaxy, who scored four goals in the remainder of the match. Robbie Keane scored a goal in the 47th minute, while Donovan once again dished an assist to Adam Cristman, who buried a header, to give the visitors a comfortable 4-1 cushion in the 62nd minute of the match.
As Beckham left the pitch in the 75th minute, he approached Filipino boxing champ Manny Pacquiao at the stadium’s VIP area and gave his jersey to him. Beckham admitted he is a big fan of the eight-division world boxing champion.
“I couldn’t wait to talk to him,” said Beckham.
The Azkals failed to even get a knack on the goal since then, with their defense also crumbling late in the match as Anton del Rosario fouled Galaxy’s Jovan Girovski inside the box, resulting to a penalty goal by Gregg Berhalter in the 81st minute. Cristman hit another goal from the right corner in the 87th minute to seal the victory.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena praised the Philippine squad after the match.
“They threatened us more than the Indonesian team,” said Arena, referring to the Galaxy’s prior match in Indonesia almost a week ago which they won, 1-0, as part of their Asia Pacific tour. “(With) a lot of hardwork and dedication… maybe one day you (the Philippines) can qualify in the World Cup.”
Galaxy stars Beckham and Donovan also commended the Azkals’ effort in the match.
“They were very organized in the first half,” said Donovan, also the USA national soccer team captain.
Beckham, meanwhile, said the they had a hard time playing against the Azkals.
“The score doesn’t tell how close the game was,” Beckham said. “It was a difficult game.”
Azkals coach Hans Weiss blamed the loss for the team’s lack of preparation for the match.
“This is the price we have to pay on playing without real preparation,” said Weiss. “We were punished for that.”
However, Weiss remains optimistic about the lessons the team learned from the match, especially during the stretches when the Azkals kept the game close.
“We have to see positive things that happened in the first half,” Weiss said.
Azkals star Chieffy Caligdong shared Weiss’ thoughts.
“Marami kaming natutunan sa game na ito,” said Caligdong.
The Galaxy-Azkals match is considered the biggest football match in the country since the Cruzeiro Esporte Clube led by Brazilian footbal legend Tostao played against the Philippine team in the 1970s.
Younghusband, meanwhile, said he cannot imagine the Philippines would play against a world-class team like the Galaxy exactly a year ago, when the squad made a surprising run in the 2010 Suzuki Cup.
“We never thought this would happen,” Younghusband said. “It’s a dream come true. ”
Photos by Jenner Ong, Andrew Pamorada, and Roehl Niño Bautista