A familiar result greeted the Philippine Azkals and Harimau Malaysia when they figured in another goalless draw on Tuesday evening, in a friendly match held at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
It marked the fifth straight stalemate between the two neighboring countries, a result that perhaps frustrated the Azkals, who felt they had the upper hand in the encounter.
The Filipinos turned up the heat straight from kickoff when Amani Aguinaldo’s clever diagonal pass located Phil Younghusband on the edge of the box. The skipper met the ball but fell in the most unfortunate of moments and while there was a shout for a penalty, the officials were not convinced.
Eight minutes into the contest, they had the ball in the back of the net but the effort was disallowed by the linesman’s flag. Apparently, the Loyola danger man had received Javi Patiño’s pass from an offside position.
The Henan Jianye forward, who returned to international duty after missing the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup, proved why he had been sorely missed in the regional tournament, as his presence in the attacking third had to be strictly monitored by the Malaysians.
In the 13th minute, he was through on goal and set to meet Misagh Bahadoran’s pass. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough pace to beat Ronny Harun, who cleared the ball from danger. Shortly, a better moment came for Patiño as he was found by Iain Ramsay right in front of goal. Short of pace earlier, this time he failed to pack his shot with more power to beat Malaysia goalkeeper Mohd Khairulazhan Mohd Khalid.
Sustaining the momentum, the Azkals looked eager to reward the home fans with a goal which nearly came in the 20th minute courtesy of P. Younghusband. Having the ball on the edge of the box, the Philippines’ record goalscorer initially lost control of the ball before recovering in time to test Mohd Khalid.
In the half hour mark of the game, Azkals Coach Thomas Dooley was forced to make an early change with Bahadoran hurting his knee. Mike Ott came to his place and almost made an immediate impact. The substitute managed to shoot a deflected effort coming from a brilliant pass made by Junior Muñoz. In the resulting corner, Aguinaldo also came close to breaking the deadlock, if he had only managed to guide the ball with his head more accurately.
Down the other end of the pitch, Neil Etheridge had very little to do in the opening 45 minutes of the game. Whenever the Malaysians had possession in the attacking third, the Azkals defense made things tough for the visitors, as Safee Sali and Hazwan Bakri saw their movements eventually fizzle out.
Halftime soon came with the score staying level at 0-0, perhaps to the visitors’ relief, as they had just managed to go to the second half still on level footing with the Azkals.
Seemingly discontent, the Filipinos began the second half with the same vigor in which they had started the game with. The difference was there were less clear cut chances generated as the Malaysian defense coped with them better.
Neutralizing the Azkals threat, the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup champions began to move with more confidence on the attack. Sadly for them, the quality of passing in the attacking third did not improve, turning the game into a rearguard battle.
As time went by, the Azkals regained momentum and were poised to break the deadlock entering the final stages of the match. In the 72nd minute, substitute Hikaru Minegishi forced a save from Mohd Khalid, who also read an Aguinaldo header well moments later.
Towards the end, the Malaysians became more dangerous. Their aggressive approach led to a penalty appeal by the referee, as Veenod Subramainam thought he was fouled inside the box. Instead there was nothing given and the Filipinos cleared the ball away from harm.
The Selangor marksman may have actually won the game for the Malaysians if not for his sorry miss from around 12 yards in the 89th minute. The flag stayed down and with only Etheridge to beat, Subramainam squandered the gilt-edged chance.
He was almost made to rue the miss as a late charge by the Philippines almost won them the game. Fitch Arboleda had the last kick of the game, but the Stallion midfielder could only sent the ball wide to conclude another draw between the two teams.
“I think the team did a good job. We made chances [and] we had possession most of the time. That’s what we expected,” Thomas Dooley said after the game, while also revealing that the team had played to the plan and just fell short in punishing their opponents by not making their chances count.
Satisfied with the overall performance, Dooley only issued one demand to his charges, and that was to play sharper in front of goal ahead of the more important match against Nepal on Wednesday.
“We need to score goals to win games so our focus on the next couple of days will be on finishing, finishing, finishing. We have to win four games (in the qualifiers) and we start with Nepal at home, so we need to score goals,” the former US captain elaborated.
As mentioned, the Azkals will host Nepal at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in the first game out of the six group stage games to be played in the last round of 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. The game is set to kick off at 8:30 in the evening.