Azkals crash in Maldives

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Saturday, May 31, 2014


THE Philippine Azkals failed to punch their ticket to next year's AFC Asian Cup after bowing to Palestine, 0-1, in their championship match of the AFC Challenge Cup held late Friday night (Manila time) in Maldives.

Defensive lapses from the Azkals finally cost them as a Palestine free kick in the 58th minute sealed the Azkals' fate.

Palestine kicked off the game in a calm and collected fashion, playing a clean passing game coupled with off-the-ball movement, which kept them in the Azkals' half for most of the game.

Azkals shot-stopper Roland Mueller was first called into action in the 15th minute, stopping a close-range effort from the Palestinians. A long ball was sent into the box, and a Palestine player slithered through the Azkals' defense to make a shot on goal and force Mueller to make a save.

The Philippines' national football team could only attack on the counter, and too often attempted to send long balls into the box only to have a Palestinian defender clear the ball.

The rest of the first half was largely the same, with the Azkals leaving holes in their defense, allowing Palestine to send through balls to their players in the box. Palestine's finishing, however, was not clinical, missing chance after chance in the first half and forcing Mueller into action multiple times over the half.

One of the Philippines' best chances to score came by way of Phil Younghusband sending a free kick into Palestine's penalty area. The ball went loose in the box, but the Azkals yet again failed to capitalize on it.

Another issue facing the Azkals' attack was their inability to keep their shots down, as shots from Paul Mulders, Younghusband and Simone Rota in the first half sailed over the crossbar.

In the 42nd minute, Palestine nearly earned a penalty when pandemonium broke out in the Philippines' box. A defensive error from the Azkals left a Palestine player one-on-one with Mueller, who was able to catch the attacker off balance. A clumsy tackle from Amani Aguinaldo, however, almost looked as if it hit the Palestinian player on the ground, and the subsequent clearance conveniently found its way to another Palestinian player outside the box, whose shot was also blocked.

The second half kicked off with the Azkals in possession, who initially looked sharper in attack following the half-time break, despite losing Schroeck was subbed off before the game resumed.

In the 49th minute, a cross from the Azkals made its way into the Palestinians' box, but Younghusband could not make it in time to meet the ball with his head.

The Azkals goal was once again threatened in the 52nd minute, when a header from the Palestine attack glanced off the goalpost and away from the goal. Five minutes later, however, Palestine would finally hit their mark.

Palestine was granted a free kick just a few meters outside the box, and Ashraf Nu'manAlfawaghra sent the ball over the Azkals' wall and a little under the top left corner.

The Azkals were unable to equalize for the rest of the game. They were able to launch a few more well-placed balls into the Palestine box, but were ultimately unable to score.

In a game where both sides struggled with their finishing, it was the set pieces that made the difference. Palestine needed only one to win the game and book a trip to Australia for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 01, 2014.

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