PHL makes semis

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Sunday, May 25, 2014


THE Philippines kept its hopes for a spot in next year’s Asian Cup in Australia alive after finishing at the top spot in the group stage of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup.

The Azkals barged into the semifinals after clinching the top spot of Group B following a 2-0 victory over Turkmenistan last Saturday night at the National Stadium in Male, Maldives.

Phil Younghusband ended the scoring lull and hit the back of the net in the 49th minute with a free kick just outside the box.

Substitute Patrick Reichelt redirected Martin Steuble’s cross in the 79th minute for the insurance goal.

The Philippines finished with seven points on two wins and a draw, while Afghanistan finished second after getting held to a scoreless draw by Laos.

“We knew it would be difficult,” Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said in a report posted at the AFC Challenge Cup official website. “It was do or die and a challenge with their physical presence. We tried to play compact and use our quick players up front.”

Roland Mueller did an impressive goalkeeping job for the Azkals, who lost goalkeeper Neil Etheridge to an injury. He also saved a penalty late in the first half.

“Our keeper kept us alive. Today we have to recognize him and not just Phil and Patrick’s great goals,” said Dooley. “I know what the team can do. Our focus is on winning the Challenge Cup.”

The Azkals will take on host team Maldives in the semifinals on Tuesday while Afghanistan faces off with Palestine.

“I would like to congratulate the Philippines. In the first half my players did everything we told them to, but in the second half they made many mistakes. If we had scored the penalty we could have changed our strategy. Therefore, in the second half we had to play attacking football. This is not a lucky tournament for us,” Turkmenistan coach Rahim Kurbanmamedov said.

The winner of the AFC Challenge Cup gets the last remaining slot in Group D the AFC Asian Cup next year, along with Jordan, Iraq and defending Asian Cup champion Japan.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 26, 2014.

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