Azkals held to a draw anew as Asian Cup berth remained elusive
The Philippines’ AFC Asian Cup qualification bid remained hanging in the balance after the Azkals were held to a goalless draw by Nepal last Tuesday at ANFA Stadium in Kathmandu.
Carlie de Murga was denied by the crossbar in second half stoppage time and Daisuke Sato’s header was also cleared off the line as the Azkals failed to break down a resolute Nepalese side, which was already out of contention in Group F.
It was the third straight draw for the Filipinos, who were held to back-to-back stalemates by Yemen.
But as it stands, the Azkals still have the inside track in the race for the two Asian Cup berths after improving their tally to nine points.
Tajikistan and Yemen are just three points behind with a match at hand, which means the grim prospect of not qualifying is still possible for the Azkals, who have to beat the Tajiks on March 27 at home.
Playing in high altitude, the Azkals took awhile to settle into the match. The first chance came in the 21st minute when Iain Ramsay found De Murga inside the box only for the defender to send his shot over the bar.
The spell of good play from the Azkals was highlighted by a couple of big opportunities in the 35th minute. Curt Dizon cut inside from the right and stung the palm of the Nepalese keeper Kiran Limbu, who could only save the ball into the path of Mike Ott. The diminutive atttacker, however, couldn’t get solid contact with the Kiran to beat.
Just after the hour mark, Kiran was called into action by Simone Rota, who rifled a long range effort. The rebound fell to skipper Phil Younghusband, who sprayed his effort wide.
The game opened up late in the second half as the Azkals threw men forward and Junior Munoz and De Murga had to make a couple of timely blocks to deny the hosts from going ahead.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley sent Pika Minegishi and James Younghusband into the fray in the hopes of boosting the attack. Off an Iain Ramsay’s inswinging corner, the ball found its way Sato, whose free header was cleared off the line in the 83rd minute.
Well drilled and disciplined defensively for most of the contest, the Nepalese rode their luck in stoppage time. Neil Etheridge’s free kick picked out De Murga whose header rattled the crossbar as the Azkals came within inches of qualifying with a game to spare.
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