MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines opened its AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifying campaign with a scoreless draw as it wasn’t able to unlock Yemen’s tight defense on Wednesday, June 8, at the MFF Stadium in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
The world No. 133 Philippine Azkals and Yemen, ranked No. 151, now temporarily sit on top of Group B with a point each as they await for the result of the match between 100th-ranked Palestine and No. 186 Mongolia later Wednesday.
The Philippines can secure a slot in the 18th edition of the prestigious quadrennial tournament in Asia if it finishes first in the group or becomes one of the five best second-placed teams.
It was a lively opening 45 minutes for the first qualifying game in Group B as both the Philippines and Yemen each had chances to break the deadlock and score a goal.
Azkals midfielder Mike Ott launched a long-range shot at the 4th minute, but his attempt was way off target as it swerved out for a goal kick.
Philippine goalkeeper Neil Etheridge was tested 15 minutes later as Ahmed Al-Sarori of Yemen tried to score from afar as well. His attempt, though, was easily saved by the British-Filipino goalkeeper.
At the 37th minute, Etheridge, who currently plays club football for Birmingham City in England’s second division, prevented another Al-Sarori shot after Oliver Bias mistimed his clearance kick just at the edge of the penalty box.
Yemen made an early substitution at the 41-minute mark as Anes Salem Al-Maari made way for Abdulwasea Al-Matari, but the Philippines continued their offensive assault with two more chances before the halftime whistle.
Bias caught the rebound of Mike Ott’s blocked shot and fired a left-footed attempt inside the box, while Sandro Reyes launched a left-footed shot from a distance at the 43rd minute. Both shots went over the bar as the score remained at 0-0.
Thirteen minutes minutes into the second half, the Azkals probably had their best scoring chance of the game as Kenshiro Daniels timed his header well following a beautiful corner kick from his teammate.
Salem Gamal, Yemen’s goalkeeper, quickly reacted to Daniels’ accurate header and caught the ball just before it went in.
Bienvenido Marañon, a 59th minute Azkals substitute, almost provided the Philippines a 1-0 lead at the 74th minute, but Gamal closed him down at the near post to deny him an easy goal following a wonderful through ball from Patrick Reichelt.
More substitutes entered the match in the closing minutes, but unfortunately for both teams, not even one managed to bag the crucial goal for the victory.
Yemen had three more shots before the final whistle, but two were off mark, while the second was parried away by Etheridge to keep his clean sheet.
The Philippine Azkals will look to snatch its first victory in the third round of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifying tournament as it takes on Group B host Mongolia on Saturday, June 11 at 12:30 pm, at the same venue. – Rappler.com