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(2nd UPDATE) MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals drew 0-0 with the Singapore Lions in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila on Saturday, December 8.
Singapore dominated the first half and enjoyed many chances to score, but Azkals keeper and man of the match Ed Sacapano managed to deny them every single time and keep another clean sheet, his third in a row so far in the tournament.
The Philippines improved substantially in the second half, led by substitute Marwin Angeles, but their enthusiasm was not enough to break the well-organized Singaporean defense.
Both teams will meet again on Wednesday for the second leg of the semifinal in Singapore.
Singapore in control
Almost right after the referee blew the whistle for kick-off, Singapore’s intensity baffled the Philippine team, whose defense was lucky not to concede a goal after the Lions enjoyed two good chances in the first 5 minutes.
Led by veteran 42-year-old playmaker Aleksandar Duric, the Singaporeans dominated the passing game in the midfield, while the Azkals scrambled around the pitch and were barely able to hold on to the ball.
Fortunately for the Philippines, the Man of the Match was goalkeeper Ed Sacapano, initially second choice but picked after Neil Etheridge was recalled by his British club Fulham, days before the start of the Suzuki Cup group stage in Thailand.
Sacapano managed to block every shot, including a very close one in the 16th minute.
The Azkals had to wait until the 16th minute for Phil Younghusband to get the first shot on goal, and Singapore almost scored 5 minutes later when Ishak’s strike went wide by barely a few inches.
Singapore continued the pressure until the end of the first 45 minutes, but the second half was another story.
After the dressing room talk, coach Michael Weiss replaced Jason de Jong with Marwin Angeles, and the substitution changed everything: ball possession went back to the Philippines, which recovered the intensity it needed to compete in a game like this.
Phil Younghusband and Angel Guirado led the attacks, assisted by James Younghusband and Patrick Reichelt on the wings.
The Azkals pressured Singapore and pushed them back to their own half.
Paul Mulders had the best chance to break the deadlock in the 71st minute, but his curling kick went just wide of the goal defended by Mohamad Izwan Mahbud.
The crowd at Rizal Memorial Stadium then went wild when captain Chieffy Calidgong came on for Reichelt in the 76th.
Caligdong, the hero against Vietnam, turned up the temperature and the volume, but failed to pull off another miracle and the score stayed at 0-0.
Return leg on Wednesday
Now the Philippine team will have 4 days to rest before the crucial return leg in Singapore on Wednesday.
A goalless draw is not a great result but not a bad one, especially if the Azkals are able to score so they can benefit from the away goal advantage which will get them through on a tie.
However, if the game again ends 0-0, there will be extra time and a dramatic penalty shootout.
The Philippines must draw on its recent good record against Singapore — two wins and a draw in 3 games in less than two months — and start with the same impetus it ended the game with.
Coach Weiss should also consider going for the game from the beginning and field talented midfielders like Marwin Angeles and Chieffy Caligdong, who made the difference in the 2nd half.
The Azkals proved they have the skill, pace and intensity they need to make it to the final. Now they have the opportunity to make history and Pinoys proud of their national football team. – Rappler.com