Philippines came from a goal down to record a 4-1 win over Laos in their opening Group A game of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup on Saturday evening.
Khampheng Sayavutthi had fired Laos ahead at the My Dinh National Stadium with a delightful freekick in the 21st minute, but the Azkals pulled level five minutes before halftime through a Simone Rota header.
Right before halftime, Phil Younghusband nodded home Jerry Lucena’s cross to put Philippines ahead, before Patrick Reichelt came off the bench to wrap up the three points with a well-taken brace in the final 13 minutes.
Having reached the semi-finals in the previous two editions, Philippines entered Saturday’s clash looking to get their campaign off to a good start, especially with tough tests against Indonesia and Vietnam to come.
They certainly showed plenty of initiative from the first whistle and Younghusband had a couple of chances in the opening five minutes, screwing a shot wide before sending another effort straight at Soukthavy Soundala.
However, despite being the dominant side in the early exchanges, the Azkals found themselves behind in the 21st minute after Soukaphone Vongchiengkham had been fouled on the edge of the box by Juan Luis Guirado; Khampheng stepping up and curling a delightful freekick in off the post.
Philippines then thought they had equalised a minute after the half-hour mark as Lucena poked a shot towards the unguarded goal after Soukthavy had spilled Martin Steuble’s cross, but Ketsada Souksavanh raced back in time to clear just as the ball was about to cross the line.
Nonetheless, Thomas Dooley’s charges finally found the breakthrough in the 40th minute when Manny Ott swung a corner to the near post, where Simone Rota proceeded to send a glancing header into the far corner.
Philippines would have been forgiven for being content to head into the break level on the scoreboard but in first-half injury-time, they went on to take the lead when Jerry Lucena broke free down the left and floated an excellent cross to Younghusband, who made no mistake in guiding his header into the back of the net.
The Azkals continued to threaten in the second half and carved out their fair share of decent chances, but struggled to add to their tally as Younghusband, Mark Hartmann and Misagh Bahadoran were all guilty of being wasteful in front of goal.
Thim Xad, to their credit, were trying their best to get back into the contest and had a glorious opportunity four minutes after the hour mark when Soukaphone broke free down the left and fired the ball across the face of goal, but Khampheng was just unable to connect at full stretch with the goal gaping.
Aware that his side were likely to need a third goal to make sure of the win, Dooley introduced Reichelt for Hartmann moments later and it proved to be an inspired substitution in the 77th minute.
Receiving possession inside the attacking third, Younghusband did well to hold up the ball before lifting a lovely ball through to Reichelt, who advanced on goal before finishing past Soukthavy.
And two minutes from time, Philippines wrapped up an emphatic victory as Reichelt stabbed home from six yards after Younghusband picked him out again with a terrific cross with the outside of his foot, ensuring they got their campaign off to the best start possible.
Philippines: Patrick Deyto, Simone Rota (Kenshiro Daniels 81’), Amani Aguinaldo, Juan Luis Guirado, Daisuke Sato, Manny Ott, Jerry Lucena (James Younghusband 83’), Martin Steuble, Phil Younghusband, Misagh Bahadoran, Mark Hartmann (Patrick Reichelt 66’).
Laos: Soukthavy Soundala, Saynakhonevieng Phommapanya, Ketsada Souksavanh, Saison Khounsamnan, Sengdao Inthilath (Bounthavy Sipasong 80’), Keoviengpheth Lithideth, Phoutdavy Phommasane (Phoutthasay Khochalern 77’), Vilayout Sayyabounsou, Soukaphone Vongchiengkham, Khonesavanh Sihavong, Khampheng Sayavutthi.