Azkals hold Asian heavyweight Bahrain to scoreless drawBy Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
IN A clear indication of its improvement, a resolute Philippines side that created better and more clear-cut chances battled Asian powerhouse Bahrain to a scoreless draw Friday night at the Al-Muharraq Stadium in Manama.
Refusing to be awed by the pedigree of their opponents, the Azkals—ranked 32 places lower than Bahrain at No. 147—had the hosts on their heels for most of the first half, but failed to get the reward for their impressive play.
The gulf in the rankings was hardly evident in the match with the Azkals aggressively taking the game to the Bahrainis with their quick passing and superb movement of the ball in the first 30 minutes.
The draw proved to be another achievement for the Azkals as Bahrain is actually the highest-ranked team that the country held to a standoff when the Fifa ranking was implemented in 1992. In the last two World Cup qualifying tournaments, Bahrain came within a victory of crashing the showpiece event of the sport.
“It is a very good experience for the team considering the strength of Bahrain,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “I like how the team is evolving. From the local based players in the Peace Cup and the Europe-based players joining forces, the strong possibilities for us being an Asian contender in the region has just been reinforced.”
Palami refused to get carried away by the performance, saying the side still needs to improve on cohesion as it prepares for the AFF Suzuki Cup next month. The Azkals were scheduled to fly to Kuwait yesterday for a friendly with their World Cup Qualifying tormentors on Tuesday.
“It’s a big boost for us but we still have to look at it as preparation for the Suzuki Cup,” he added.
Compact and organized, the Azkals not only kept the clean sheet, but put the Bahrainis, who are also preparing for the prestigious Gulf Cup, on the backfoot.
The best chance of the match came in the 30th minute when Azkals striker Denis Wolf raced into a long ball down the middle, beating the offside trap. Wolf was only denied by a fantastic foot save by Bahrain goalkeeper Abbas Ahmed.
Wolf actually had a hat-trick of clear-cut chances gone begging. The first came as early as the fourth minute when Patrick Reichelt headed the ball to his path, but the Global FC striker could only shoot over from eight yards.
Wolf’s struggles continued in the second half. Some lovely interplay involving Misagh Bahadoran gave Wolf an opening, but he lost his balance at the final moment and Bahrain was quick to clear out the danger.
When Bahrain was able to settle into a passing rhythm in the second half, the Azkals were quick and alert to snuff out danger after danger.