By FRANCIS SANTIAGO
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals withstood the aggressive stand of the fancied Palestinian side to salvage a scoreless draw and keep their bid alive in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup group stage Wednesday at the Thuwanna Stadium in Rangoon, Myanmar.
Putting up a Spartan-like defense, the Azkals thwarted everything the Al-Fursans threw at them, with goalkeeper Neil Etheridge protecting the goalmouth valiantly as the Filipinos forged a draw for the second straight game.
Chieffy Caligdong and newcomer Yannick Tuason showed offensive and defensive brilliance but the end result left the Azkals’ fate hanging in the balance entering their final match opposite Bangladesh Friday in the same venue.
A victory, though, could have led the Azkals to a safer position.
For blowing away a won game that resulted in a 1-1 draw against Myanmar last Monday, the Azkals remained at second with two points, but could end up at third should Myanmar beat Bangladesh in the second game which was being played at presstime in the same venue. If Myanmar prevailed last night, it will tie Palestine on top with similar four points.
The Azkals will need to beat Bangladesh at all cost Friday at 5 p.m. (Manila time) to stay in the race.
The top two teams at the end of the single round group elims will advance to the main draw next year.
The Azkals made several last ditch efforts to break the ice even in the injury time but their efforts went to naught as the taller Palestinians proved to be tough nut to crack.
Filipino-British Rob Gier nearly scored off a free kick but was frustrated by goalkeeper Abdullah Saidawi.
Caligdong, who scored a goal in the Azkals’ 2-0 win against Mongolia in the pre-qualifying in Bacolod City last Feb., also tried, but his shot from outside the box in the 85th went straight into the hands of Saidawi.
Tuason, a member of the University of Santo Tomas football team who subbed for Simon Greatwich, showed his potential when he blocked a flowing shot by Ashraf Nu'man in the 67th.
The Palestinians got the better of the Azkals in the first half by making several attempts. They hit the crossbar twice.
Another scoring opportunity came for Palestine when Simon Greatwich was booked for a yellow card in the 35th for diving inside the box, but the shot was blocked by the solid Filipino wall.
It was rugged first half as Chieffy Caligdong, went down at least twice against taller Palestinians, who put premium on defense by having five midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Thursday, 24 March 2011
By FRANCIS SANTIAGO