Azkals fall to Turkmenistan in the semis

Natashya Gutierrez
Azkals lose to the Turkmen 2-1, will compete for third place


CELEBRATION. The Azkals celebrate their goal against Nepal. October 11, 2011. Nadine Gutierrez.

MANILA, Philippines – The men’s Philippine football team has lost a ticket to the finals.

In just a blink of an eye – a span of six minutes to be exact – Turkmenistan stole the show away after two consecutive goals in the twilight zone of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup semi-finals in Kathmandu, Nepal on Friday, March 16.

Turkmenistan downed the Azkals 2-1.

Phil Younghusband once again opened up the scoring for the match when he blasted the ball into the net at the 25th mark, set up by a Paul Mulders cross from the right, off a feed from Carly de Murga to put the Azkals up by one.

Younghusband’s goal was the first conceded by Turkmenistan in the whole tournament. It was his 22nd international goal.

But Turkmenistan’s Amanov Arslanmyrat responded with a goal of his own on the 80th minute by netting a long range shot into the bottom right of the Azkal goal.

Moments after, Chonkayev Gahrymanberdi eluded the flock of Azkals defenders near the six-yard box for Turkmenistan’s second goal.

The Azkals’ chances to catch up were further dwindled when their star goalkeeper Neil Etheridge received a red card on the 92nd minute, after kicking the leg of a Turkmenistan player.

Carli de Murga took his place on goal, as there were no more substitutes left by the time Etheridge was suspended.

Close calls

After the goal, the Azkals had several attempts to take a larger lead, but their consistent attacks would not go in.

On the 33rd minute, a shot by Younghusband was saved by the goalie, giving the Azkals a corner kick. The ball was headed by Jonsson into the goal only to be saved the Turkmenistan keeper yet again.

Etheridge also came out in the first half with huge saves for the Philippines.

Turkmenistan came close to equalizing on the 28th minute, but the shot hit the crossbar. A series of shots were taken by Turkmenistan on the 40th minute, but the Central Asians could not get a good, crisp shot on it. Etheridge also deflected a huge shot on goal with his left foot on the 41st minute.

The last minutes of the half saw a barrage of attempts from a determined Turkmenistan team, including a shot that went in via header from a cross on the 44th minute, but it was ruled offsides by the linesman.

The Turkmen came out in the 2nd half deternined to score, with much more aggression on offense, while the Azkals defense dropped significantly deeper forcing Turkmenistan to take shots from a distance.

Etheridge continued the defensive efforts until he was suspended from the game. He had a huge save on the 60th minute, catching a long range, low shot by Turkmenistan. Another long range attempt 6 minutes later was again caught by the Azkals’ keeper.

Lexton Moy was also denied of a goal after a spectacular save by the Turkmenistan keeper on the 74th minute. The last 10 minutes saw the Azkals step up their offense only for Arslanmyrat to score the equalizer.

Road to the semis

It had been an incredible journey to the semi-finals for the Azkals.

The Azkals entered the tournament as the lowest-seeded team.

After booting 2006 champions Tajikistan and 2008 winners India from the tournament, they found themselves in the top 4, face to face with Turkmenistan.

The Turkmenistan football team topped the group stage of Group A with 7 points, after registering 2 wins and 1 draw — earning the #1 spot by goal difference over Palestine.

They won their first game on the opening game of the tournament, downing Maldives 3-1, settling for a scoreless draw with Palestine, and defeating Nepal 3-0.

The Azkals played the semis without key players James Younghusband and Angel Guirado. The 2 were suspended after earning two yellow cards each in the group stage. Midfielder Jason Sabio was also out due to a knee injury.

Guirado and Younghusband will be available for their next match while Sabio’s participations remains doubtful. Etheridge will be unable to play due to the red card.

The Azkals will play Palestine for third place on Monday, March 19. Palestine lost to North Korea 2-0, in their semi-finals match. Read live blog here. – with reports from Mia Domingo/

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