Steady Azkals on right track
Substitute goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard pulled off a string of spectacular saves in the second half as the Philippines held Gulf Cup champion Oman to a 1-1 draw on Saturday night in a friendly in Doha, Qatar.
Ranged against the 85th-ranked team in the latest international rankings, the Azkals showed their worth with a strong defensive performance, although they struggled to create chances in searing conditions at Gharafa Stadium.
“It’s still one of the biggest results for the Philippines in a long time,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “But more than that, it’s the steady improvement that the team is showing that’s building everyone’s confidence as we draw closer to the important tournaments.”
Raed Saleh struck from close range after a poor clearance from Neil Etheridge in the ninth minute, only for the Azkals to equalize on a set piece when Khalid Al Hajri headed Manny Ott’s delivery into his own net.
Coming in as a halftime sub for Etheridge, Falkesgaard put on an impressive show with three important saves to preserve the stalemate for the Azkals, who are preparing for the AFF Suzuki Cup in November and the AFC Asian Cup in January.
“We’re very pleased with the result,” said Azkals coach Scott Cooper, who continued to tinker with his squad. “Considering that we’re still in a period of experimenting and putting in a system that requires a high level of fitness, this was a fantastic performance.”
Oman did not concede a single goal in its last seven competitive matches, which included a victory over powerhouse United Arab Emirates in the Gulf Cup final in January.
Cooper allowed Martin Steuble, Kevin Ingreso, Alvaro Silva, Stephan Palla and Javier Patino to return to the starting 11. Curt Dizon was also given a starting nod, while Ott, Luke Woodland, Phil Younghusband and Patrick Reichelt kept their place after starting in the 1-1 draw against Bahrain last month.
Save for the blunder on the first goal, Etheridge was solid throughout in 45 minutes, while Ott also had an opportunity saved by Oman keeper Ali Al-Habsi following good linkup with Patino late in the first half. —CEDELF P. TUPAS
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