Philippines qualify for AFC Challenge Cup semis

The Azkals beat desperate Turkmenistan 2-0 thanks to goals from Younghusband and Reichelt and excellent saves by keeper Muller. Paul Freelend reports from Male.
Phil Younghusband scored one of the goals for the Philippines on Saturday. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Phil Younghusband scored one of the goals for the Philippines on Saturday. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

MALE, MALDIVES // A few moments of individual excellence made the difference for the Philippines on Saturday as they booked a return to the AFC Challenge Cup semi-finals.

Goals from Phil Younghusband and Patrick Reichelt gave the Azkals a 2-0 win over Turkmenistan at National Stadium in Male, though the standout performance of the day belonged to Philippines goalkeeper Roland Muller for several key saves, including a momentum-shifting penalty kick stop.

A draw would have seen the Philippines into the last four, but two-time semi-finalists Turkmenistan needed a victory to stay in the competition. Their pre-match warm-up, which focused on crossing and shooting from distance, let Philippines coach Thomas Dooley know to expect an aerial bombardment.

“We knew it would be a difficult game. Turkmenistan had to play do or die, they had to do everything to win that game,” he said. “With the size and physical talent they have, it’s a challenge for any team.

“When you see the [Turkmenistan] warm-up, they had like 250 shots from the outside and crossing the ball in, you know exactly what they want to do. They want to get free kicks and crosses into the box and put pressure on us because they know they have to win.”

The combination of a pitch showing significant signs of wear, two sides playing fast and physical football, and a referee with a quick whistle made for a tense, uneven first half. The tension heightened in the 42nd minute when the referee awarded a penalty kick against Simone Rota for a shirt tug in the box before a Turkmenistan free kick.

Muller saved the day for the Philippines, pushing away Aleksandr Boliyan’s spot kick to keep his team in the reckoning for the last four.

“I told Roland that a keeper sometimes in a season has to win four or five games on his own. He doesn’t have to score a goal, he just has to keep us alive,” Dooley said. “With all the saves he did and saving the penalty, he won the game for us.

“It doesn’t mean that anybody else didn’t do their job, but most likely if somebody scores a winning goal, those are almost always the people in the spotlight. Today, we have to recognise that the one who kept us alive the whole game was Roland.”

Relief for the Azkals came five minutes after the restart. Mekan Saparov hauled down Reichelt on the edge of the box, and Younghusband curled the ensuing free kick just over the Turkmenistan wall and into the net.

Playing with the cushion of a lead, the Philippines poured forward in search of the goal that would kill off the match. Younghusband looked to have it in the 54th minute, only for his spinning shot to be cleared off the goal line. Reichelt made the three points safe in the 72nd, hurling himself at full stretch to volley Martin Steuble’s cross from the left past Farhat Bazarov.

Turkmenistan’s exit was made all the more secure when Farhad Italmazov, who entered the match in the 62nd minute, received his second yellow card 16 minutes later. The latter yellow was the 10th handed out by Nagor Amir Noor Mohamed of Malaysia on the day.

Turkmenistan coach Rahim Kurbanmamedov said Muller’s penalty save was a turning point for the match.

“In the first half, the players did everything that I spoke to them about before the match. In the second half, they made many mistakes and that was the result,” he said.

“If [Boliyan] scored the penalty, we could have changed our strategy for the second half. We had to play the second half with more attacking football.”

Afghanistan’s 0-0 draw with Laos in Hithadhoo meant the Philippines won Group B with seven points, scoring four goals and conceding none. The Afghans took second with five points, pitting them against Group A winners Palestine in Tuesday’s first semi-final. The Philippines face the Maldives that evening in the second semi-final.

In the meantime, the Azkals have some much-needed rest after playing three matches in five days. Dooley may end up having to make use of his entire 23-man squad after an attritional group stage. In addition to Neil Etheridge and Juan Guirado, who remain long-term absentees, Ruben Doctora left Saturday’s match after 29 minutes with a knee injury and Stephan Schrock was substituted after 64 minutes as a precaution over a hamstring problem.

Chris Greatwich gave the squad a boost, though, returning to the bench after missing the Laos match with an eye injury. He was an unused substitute against Turkmenistan.

pfreelend@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at SprtNationalUAE

Published: May 24, 2014 04:00 AM

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