Azkals forge tie with Yemenis, inch closer toward AFC Asian Cup slot
Summoning its old, fighting form, the Philippines moved within a whisker of an AFC Asian Cup spot after salvaging a 1-1 draw with Yemen Tuesday night at Al Wakrah Stadium in Doha, Qatar.
For the second straight game, the Azkals needed a late goal to secure a point against the Yemenis as Mike Ott struck in the 89th minute to keep the Filipinos in pole position in Group F, where the top two sides will qualify for the tournament in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
The Azkals struggled to break down the Yemenis for most of the match until Ott, who plays for Angthong United in the Thai second division, got on the end of a clever ball from Paul Mulders and beat Mohammad Ayash at his near post for the equalizer.
The result increased the Azkals’ tally to eight points, two ahead of Tajikistan and Yemen, which play against each other in November in Dushanbe.
The Azkals can seal qualification in the continent’s showpiece tournament with a victory over Nepal in Kathmandu on Nov. 14.
With only a point to show from its first four matches, the Nepalese are virtually out of the running for an AFC Cup berth.
“We’re going to close the deal in Nepal,” vowed Azkals coach Thomas Dooley. “We came here to win, but at least we didn’t lose. We’re very happy with the point.”
“The team didn’t deserve to go home with a loss. The spirit was great, the preparation was great for this game. I’m actually satisfied overall.”
Tawfik Ali put Yemen ahead with an opportunistic strike in the 63rd minute after the Azkals failed to clear a corner.
The Azkals quickly brought more men forward with little effect until substitute Junior Muñoz showed grit and determination as he marauded down the right and cut the ball back for Phil Younghusband, who took a touch for Mulders.
Ott managed to stay onside before showing composure to finish as the Azkals found the equalizer right at the death.
With four regular starters out due to injuries, Dooley tinkered with his lineup, giving JPV Marikina defender Sean Kane a surprise start at central defense, while Davao Aguilas’ Simone Rota returned from injury and Daisuke Sato regained his leftback spot.
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