MANILA, Philippines – As the Philippine National Men’s Football Team gears up for the all-important Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup in May, it was a newbie who rose to the occasion in the Azkals’ scoreless draw with Malaysia, Sunday, April 27, at the Cebu City Sports Center in Cebu.
With no time left as Safee Sali stepped up on the spot, Patrick Deyto displayed solid composure between the sticks as he tipped away the penalty to save the day for the Azkals who were left ruing on some wasted chances that trickled all night long.
Just like in his national side debut – coincidentally against the same squad – last month, Deyto put on another solid performance as he tended the goal well to cop his second clean sheet against the Harimau Malaya, sparking debate on whether we would still need the services of Fulham’s Neil Etheridge or Filipino-German Roland Muller come May.
Sporting a new-look starting lineup that is missing mainstays Phil Younghusband and Rob Gier due to injuries, Thomas Dooley’s boys still looked good compared to their visitors as they launched attack after attack. Poor finishing prevented the Azkals from taking the lead as the half ended in nil-nil.
Playing on top together with Ruben Doctora tonight, Patrick Reichelt pestered Malaysia’s defense right from the get-go but he just could not get a goal to go, missing his mark by just inches twice in the game.
Even OJ Porteria, Jerry Lucena, and Doctora were left scratching their heads as they watched their attempts sail dangerously close to the goal but not enough to put the Philippines on top.
Adding to the Azkals’ despair on their attacking side is 70th minute substitute Nate Burkey’s late-game near misses that could have spelled the difference for the Philippines as the clock ticks away.
The Malaysians gained steam in the last 10 minutes as Sali had decent looks on the goal but the Green Archers United keeper was up to the task as he thwarted a couple of Harimau attempts approaching the final whistle.
Just as the game was shaping more and more into a scoreless draw, drama ensued in the last minute as Malaysia earned a 90th minute penalty but the veteran striker Sali failed to puncture Deyto’s spectacular and cold-blooded goalkeeping.
It was the fourth straight time that Malaysia and the Philippines figure in a draw despite Dooley’s experimentation using an undermanned Azkals squad.
The Azkals will face Afghanistan on their first group stage assignment on May 20 in the Challenge Cup – which stakes an automatic qualification to next year’s Asian Cup. – Rappler.com
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