Azkals held to draw
Held to a third straight draw, this time by a team 60 places below their Fifa ranking, the margin of error just got smaller for the Philippine Azkals in AFC Asian Cup qualifying.
The Azkals failed to score for the first time in the qualifying stage as they settled for a goalless stalemate with Nepal Tuesday night at ANFA Stadium in Kathmandu.
The result still puts the Azkals in pole position to clinch one of the two Asian Cup berths at stake in the group, but they need at least a draw when they clash with Tajikistan at home on March 27.
The Azkals remain on top with nine points with Tajikistan and Yemen, which will play in Qatar late Tuesday, three points behind.
“It’s a disappointing result, but it could have been worse considering what the team had to go through in the buildup to the match,” Azkals manager Dan Palami said.
The long-time manager rued the lack of preparation for the all-important match, after the national team had a request for a few Philippines Football League games to be rescheduled turned down, putting additional load on some of the players in the national side.
It also did not help that the Azkals missed key players Manny Ott, Javier Patino and Amani Aguinaldo to injuries. But this was the match that the Azkals could have easily coasted through had they finished their chances early.
The Azkals were also held to back-to-back draws by Yemen, which would have given them a more comfortable route to the 2019 tournament.
Carlie De Murga and Simone Rota headed over the bar in the first half, where Mike Ott also failed to finish with only the Nepalese keeper to beat.
De Murga also rattled the crossbar in second half stoppage time, just after Daisuke Sato saw his header cleared off the line.
“Playing against Nepal in Nepal is always a problem for visiting teams,” said Palami. “This is no exception. They were lucky today, but if we managed to convert one of those chances early on we could have controlled the match.”
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.
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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