AZKALS ON A ROLL
PH men’s football team blanks Yemen for second win in World Cup Qualifying
Doha, Qatar—They are nowhere near qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but two hard-fought victories in a span of five days have the Philippine Azkals dreaming big.
The Azkals put on a glittering display of attacking football to blank Yemen, 2-0, Tuesday night for their second straight victory in Asian zone qualifying at Qatar Sports Club Stadium here.
Misagh Bahadoran was on target for the second straight game while Iain Ramsay scored in only his second appearance for the national side as the Azkals dominated the Group H encounter played in hot conditions.
The two goals were set up brilliantly by striker Javier Patino who returned to the team after missing the last two major tournaments due to injury.
With the victory, the Azkals collected six points from their first two matches, tying North Korea at the top of the group. North beat Uzbekistan, 4-2, in Pyongyang early in Tuesday.
“We’re happy with the result,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “When you win against Bahrain, you can feel that the team is playing well. But this win (against Yemen) confirms how far this team has improved. Maybe we can continue surprising teams in the tournament with the way we’re playing.”
Only the No. 1 squad in the five-team group will make the third round of the qualifying tournament, but the Azkals have never gotten this far or played sensationally at this stage of the competition.
“Im very happy with the way we played,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley whose team immediately flew out of Doha after the game. “I’m humbled that we were able to play the way we did. We kept the ball and created chances. Almost everything worked.”
The Azkals arrived in this rapidly developing oil-rich country on the heels of an epic 2-1 win over Bahrain last Thursday at Philippine Sports Stadium.
Ranged against a Yemeni side that bowed to North Korea, 0-1, just five days ago, the Azkals probed with no reward in the first half. Still, they were encouraged by the way they controlled possession and how they put the opponents on their heels while hardly giving them a chance to generate their own attacks.
Javier Patino and Bahadoran as well as Manny Ott couldn’t cash in on their chances early on, but the Azkals always looked like the team most likely to score in front of 5,200 fans most of them Filipinos based here.
Showing newfound confidence after scoring his first international goal against Bahrain, Bahadoran dazzled on the right flank. He finally broke the deadlock eight minutes after the break, cutting inside from the right and swapping passes with Patino before turning and shooting brilliantly past Mohammed Ebrahim.
Substitute Patrick Reichelt couldn’t find the target with the goal at his mercy in the 72nd minute, but the Azkals doubled the lead two minutes later through Ramsay who was set up wonderfully by a low cross from Patino. A long punt from Neil Etheridge was headed to Patino’s path by Reichelt before the striker found Ramsay surging inside the six yard box for a tap-in.
“We’re creating a team that works hard to be successful,” said Dooley. “We have unique players but its all about doing the job collectively.”
Phil Younghusband had a relatively quiet performance at midfield, while Ott sparkled with his passing and movement. Cleared by Fifa to switch from England to play for the Philippines, Luke Woodland started in the middle of a three-man backline. Kevin Ingreso was also handed his debut coming in for Ramsay in second half stoppage time.
The Azkals will host Uzbekistan on Sept. 8 at the Philippine Sports Stadium for their third match in the qualifiers. /inquirer with a report from dale rosal
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