Iain Ramsay was the hero as the Philippine National Men’s Football Team (Azkals) came from behind to defeat North Korea, 3-2, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila as part of their 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign. Ramsay, who was brought on as a substitute in the second half, scored the fifth goal of the match at the 90th minute to clinch the game for the Azkals.
Ramsay was also instrumental in Manny Ott’s equalizer (84′) when he was part of the build-up play with Javier Patiño. It was Misagh Bahadoran, though, who opened the scoring (43′) for the Azkals in the first half. As for North Korea, So Kyong Jin (45+1′) and Ri Hyok Chol (47′) were the goalscorers for the visitors.
It was a slow start for the Azkals as they struggled to implement their passing and pressing. North Korea were just too much for the Philippines early in the match, and their superiority showed when Amani Aguinaldo conceded an untimely free kick, but striker Pak Kwang Ryong failed to direct his attempt towards Neil Etheridge’s goal. Fellow forward Hyok Chol then had an attempt on goal, but his shot went wide.
If North Korea were able to attack at will, then the same couldn’t be said for the Philippines. The home side had a hard time combining attacking-wise, with the forwards apparently not on the same wavelength with each other. Luke Woodland won a free kick, with Ott stepping up to take it, but Juani Guirado’s header went over the bar.
That was very much it for the Philippines at that point in the match. The Azkals were exceedingly on the backfoot. On the other hand, North Korea should have scored when Kwang Ryong met a cross, but his header hit the post. The ball then landed to Hyok Chol, who unleashed a shot, but Simone Rota cleared the ball away from the goal.
However, that scare at the back seemed to wake the Azkals up after their dismal start. Patiño was then played through on goal, but North Korea goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk easily parried the shot away. It took a while, but the Azkals finally settled into the match. Ott had a free kick routinely caught by Myong Guk. Afterwards, Bahadoran penetrated the right flank successfully to deliver a cross in the North Korea penalty box which was met by Martin Steuble, but the latter shot over.
North Korea, however, were still deadly to deal with. The away side were as frightening on the counterattack as they were in possession. Nevertheless, Etheridge continued his fine form and denied them with a point-blank save against Ro Hak Su’s header. Kwang Ryong then shot wide minutes later with Etheridge in no-man’s-land.
But in the 43rd minute, the floodgates opened for the home side. Bahadoran was in the right place at the right time to head the ball home after Patiño’s shot was deflected away by Myong Guk. That should have been all for the first half if it weren’t for some lackadaisical defending from the Azkals. From a corner, the Azkals failed to clear and were caught ball watching, and Kyong Jin’s shot crept into the Philippine goal at 45+1 minute.
The game was level, 1-1, at halftime, which was quite fair in terms of the run of play.
Come early in the second half, though, the Philippines were left to lament another goal. North Korea carried the momentum they earned from the first half early into the period. At the 47th minute, Hyok Chol converted a free kick when put the ball at the back of the net after a scramble in the Philippines’ box. Despite some heroic defense from the Azkals, to concede two goals after set-pieces is a sign of poor defending. The visitors had two attempts to triple their lead moments later. Hak Su shot wide after he was through on goal, then Etheridge denied Kwang Ryong.
With passage to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup third qualifying round now in question, the Azkals definitely had to win tonight. Ott had painfully wide after he was played through towards the North Korea goal. Patiño then had an attempt at goal after he was played on by Ramsay, with Myong Guk on hand to easily save it.
Perhaps the game should have been finished before the last 10 minutes. Etheridge, again, was the hero for the Philippines when he parried away So Hyon Uk’s header. Azkals head coach Thomas Dooley then threw James Younghusband on in the 79th minute to help try and advance the ball vertically on the pitch. Younghusband made an immediate impact when his shot was deflected out for a corner.
Just when all seemed lost for the Philippines, Ott scored the leveler in the 84th minute to send the home crowd into ecstasy. Patiño held the ball up and laid it off to Tanton, whose pass was perfect towards Ott, who then made no mistake to score in the North Korea penalty box.
The Philippines pushed for the winner after the equalizer. North Korea were pegged back, and the home side had all the initiative to go for the jugular in front of more than 7,000 fans in the stadium. The spectators got their wish at the 90th minute. Patiño once again held up the ball inside the North Korea box and he passed it to an open Ramsay who calmly directed the ball into the net.
Except for one last free kick deep into stoppage time, North Korea never really tested the Philippines’ defense in the last few minutes of the match. The final whistle blew and the Azkals celebrated wildly with the home fans. The final score was 3-2 in favor of the Philippines.
At the end of the round, the Philippines were left at 3rd place with 10 points. The result secured passage to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup third qualifying round. Come the third qualifying round, there are 12 slots open for qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup tournament proper, and doing so would be a massive achievement for Philippine football.
For Dooley, the win was a welcome outcome to end the campaign. He said, “Obviously I like those kind of moments. I like those games. I like the outcome of the game. It was just truly today the words that we have on our t-shirts, We Believe, that was the main thing for us before the game that we have to believe in us that we can play football, that we can play against teams like Uzbekistan, against teams like North Korea. This was a task that we had to have. We have to show to the people in our last game, to the fans and said we need to do the same enthusiasm that we had against Uzbekistan playing into this game and play football… I’m very happy with the outcome obviously.”