MANILA, Philippines — After holding Singapore scoreless for the third straight match Saturday night, the Philippines has all the reasons to be confident as it leaves for the second leg of their AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal duel with the three-time champion at Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday.
The Azkals, playing at home for the first time in the 16-year history of the tournament, battled the Lions to a nil-nil stalemate in the first leg at Rizal Memorial Stadium Saturday night with coach Michael Weiss getting a measure of satisfaction from the result.
“I’m actually very contented with the result,” said Weiss. “We wish we could have gotten more, but it’s difficult to take too many risks in a semifinal.”
The Azkals, who also reached the semifinals last year, lacked creativity in the first half with their midfielders struggling to make a mark in the game before coming off the break with a sense of urgency that enabled them to put the Lions on the backfoot.
Patrick Reichelt looked dangerous on the left flank in a torrid second-half effort while Carli de Murga proved solid playing against Singapore’s veteran striker Aleksandar Duric.
Angel Guirado also couldn’t craft a clear-cut opening, while Phil Younghusband found the Singapore defense tough to break down in the third meeting between the two teams over the last three months that saw the Azkals score two shutout victories.
Dennis Cagara, who arrived from Germany a day before the match, was substituted late in the match, feeling pain on his rib cage, after a battling performance against tricky Singaporean attacker Shahril Ishak.
Azkals manager Dan Palami said Cagara will be ready for the second leg on Wednesday where the Azkals will welcome back Jerry Lucena into the lineup.
Still, the scoreless draw leaves the door wide open for the Azkals to crash the finals for the first time. A scoring draw would be enough for the Azkals to advance to the next stage because of the away-goals rule.
“We’re still in the game going into the second leg,” said Younghusband. “We still have a chance in Singapore. I think the clean sheet is good at home. If we get one goal there, then we have a good chance.”
Rob Gier, who captained the side for the third straight match with Chieffy Caligdong coming off the bench, said the Azkals have it in them to come away with a result on Wednesday.
“I don’t know if we were overawed by the occasion,” said Gier. “I think it would take the second-half performance plus 20 percent (to win against Singapore) and I know we’ve got that in us.”