THE PHILIPPINES failed to get a reward for its improved play in the second half and settled for a scoreless draw against a formidable Singapore side last night in the first leg of its AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal duel at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Playing at home for the first time in the tournament, the Azkals woke up after a lethargic opening half where they struggled to create chances and put the Singaporeans under pressure in the last 30 minutes.
It wasn’t enough as the three-time champion Lions held their ground despite wave after wave of attack from the home side, which was backed by an estimated 13,000 that sparked a fiesta atmosphere inside the 78-year-old stadium.
The result meant both teams will have all to play for in the second leg on Wednesday at the Jalan Besar Stadium, where a scoring draw could be enough for the Azkals to advance to the finals.
“It’s a good result because now we go to Singapore for the second leg and we can make adjustments,” said goalkeeper Ed Sacapaño—who was put to test in the first half—in Filipino during a television interview with TV5. “I think we still have the edge because now we know the style that they play.”
Underscoring their worth, the Singaporeans took the initiative early with Shahdan Sulaiman getting the first crack three minutes into the match. Sacapaño was forced into action in the 18th minute when Khairul Amri beat Rob Gier to the ball and drew a fine save from the Filipino goalkeeper.
Except for a tamed effort from Phil Younghusband in the first half and a free kick from Paul Mulders that went narrowly wide in the second half, the Azkals couldn’t carve up a solid opportunity.
Meanwhile, with infrastructure still not in place, the Philippines will have to rely on its national team for moments like this to bring Suzuki Cup action to the country in the near future.
“Right now, we can only hope that the national team brings the Suzuki Cup home,” said Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta, who cited the lack of international standard stadiums as the reason the country can’t host the tournament’s group stages.