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Despite Etheridge heroics, Azkals fail to salvage away point in Uzbekistan

Despite Etheridge heroics, Azkals fail to salvage away point in Uzbekistan

The Philippine National Men’s Football Team, popularly known as the Azkals, were resilient all throughout the match, with goalkeeper Neil Etheridge producing a man of the match performance to thwart Uzbekistan time after time.

However, all a team needs is that one goal.

Uzbekistan center-back Anzur Ismailov scored the solitary goal at the 60th minute to deny the valiant Azkals a precious away point at the Bunyodkor Stadium in Tashkent.

Given how the last match panned out between Uzbekistan and the Philippines, it came as no surprise that it was the home side that dominated the proceedings in the first half as the Azkals were literally down on the ropes. Due to Uzbekistan’s dominance, the Philippines were left to sit deep into their own half.

The Azkals had to rely on long balls as a means to conjure some sort of attack. Luke Woodland had the solitary attempt on goal in the first half for the away side, but his shot was directed straight at Uzbekistan goalkeeper Aleksandr Lobanov. Thing became worse for the Philippines as OJ Porteria got sent off in the 10th minute due to a bad tackle on an Uzbekistan player.

Lobanov was a virtual spectator in the first half. Even before Porteria’s red card, Uzbekistan had relentlessly hunted down that goal they needed to open the Philippines’ flood gates. However, one man consistently stood in their way – Etheridge. If Etheridge had had an awful day at the office the last time both teams met at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan, then the same cannot be said of tonight.

Etheridge was simply phenomenal, and was the only reason why the first half ended goalless. He displayed his intent to make amends early on when he produced a magnificent save via his foot to deny Uzbekistan striker Igor Sergeyev one-on-one. Midfielder Server Jeparov was the next to be denied by Etheridge from point-blank range inside the Philippines’ penalty box.

The Philippine goalkeeper kept out Odil Ahmedov and Eldor Shomorudov in succession at the eve of halftime. Uzbekistan deserved to be at least a goal up before the referee blew the halftime whistle, but Etheridge was on hand to keep the home side at bay.

Uzbekistan picked up where they left off once the second half started. The home wide won a free kick, which was taken by Sardor Rashidov. Rashidov then only hit the Azkals’ wall, after which Segeyev shot wide.

Multiple times in the match, however, the Philippines were careless with the ball. This led to chances on goal by Uzbekistan. Take for instance Ahmedov’s shot from outside the box, which Etheridge stopped. Afterwards, Etheridge produced two saves in a span of a minute to keep Uzbekistan frustrated.

Nevertheless, that Uzbekistan goal was inevitable and it finally arrived in the 60th minute. Substitute Aleksandr Geynrikh delivered a quality ball into the Philippines’ penalty box, and center-back Ismailov, with his back to goal, head it past Azkals keeper Etheridge. It was cruel for the Azkals, particularly Etheridge, but Uzbekistan got what they deserve in terms of the run of play.

The Azkals were now forced to chase a goal with only ten men on the pitch. Unfortunately, whatever they did was easily repelled by Uzbekistan. Perhaps the best chance of the Philippines fell to Patrick Reichelt after Iain Ramsay crossed the ball into his path. Reichelt’s effort, though, was easily caught by Lobanov. Lobanov then routinely cleared a long ball aimed at Javier Patino, and easily handled a Martin Steuble free kick.

On the other hand, Uzbekistan still retained control of the match. Sergeev, Geynrikh, and Ahmedov could have doubled the lead, but all failed to hit the target. Geynrinkh himself was denied a goal, not by Etheridge, but by the right post, with Sergeyev rebounding over when the ball fell to him moments later. Ahmedov unleashed a powerful shot outside of the box, but Etheridge parried it out. The match then ended 1-0 to Uzbekistan.

In the post-game press conference, Uzbekistan head coach Samvel Babayan had nothing but high praise for Etheridge. “It was a difficult match. The Philippines has a good future. Their goalkeeper is a hero today,” he said. “(The) Philippines is a quality team. That’s why we had a full stadium. My players respect them especially the goalkeeper.”

While the home side deserved their victory, the Philippines can very much hold their heads high and maybe lament what happened in the previous game between both sides.

A home game at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila against North Korea on March 29, 2016 (Tuesday) is next for the Philippines.

The Azkals currently have seven points and need to win that match in order to solidify their hold on 3rd place in Group H in order to advance to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup third qualifying round.

Quotes from Cedelf P. Tupas

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