Azerbaijan edges Azkals in FIFA Friendly, 1-nil

MANILA, Philippines – The new-look Philippine National Men’s Football Team put up a gallant stand against 93rd-ranked Azerbaijan but gave up a 26th minute goal as they went down 0-1 in a FIFA Friendly match Wednesday night, March 5 at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Rufat Dadashov – who plays for German club Kaiserslautern II – headed in Vagif Javadov’s corner in the 26th minute to deny Thomas Dooley his first win with the Azkals so far, four days after the Philippines held Malaysia to a scoreless draw in Selayang. 

But it was the Azkals who looked the better side tonight, firing seven attempts compared to Azerbaijan’s five, but they could just not find the net despite dominating the European side in the second half. 

Originally left out of the Azkals lineup for this outing, Patrick Deyto once again started for the Philippines in front of the goal after Roland Muller’s last-minute backing out but the Green Archers United keeper put on another scintillating performance, keeping his side in the game save for that split-second moment when Azerbaijan scored the lone goal off the corner.

The Azkals’ European reinforcements also dazzled against Azerbaijan as Stephan Schrock and Javier Patino pestered the opposing side’s defense while Filipino-Danish Jerry Lucena did well in anchoring the Philippines’ midfield. 

UFL stars Phil Younghusband, Jeffrey Christiaens, and second half substitute Patrick Reichelt put up a stellar showing for the Azkals too, sparking several runs that almost resulted into the equalizer.

The newly-signed Ceres midfielder Reichelt came close to pinching in a late equalizer as he headed in Schrock’s cross into the upper right corner of the goal but Kamran Agayev was there to punch the attempt away.

After a sluggish first half, the Azkals came out of the gates in the second half roaring, making good use of the ball but the Azerbaijanis’ backline – led by Rubin Kazan defender Ruslan Abishov – held them scoreless until the final whistle to win the first-ever match between the two sides.

Another blow for the Philippines came inside the final five minutes of regulation when Christiaens had to be stretchered out of the pitch after going down in a defensive play for the Azkals. 

Despite the loss, it was a bright start for Dooley as he transformed the Azkals from a squad that relies on long-ball passing into a more efficient short-passing side approaching the all-important AFC Challenge Cup on May.

The Azkals will try to win it all in Maldives to get the outright ticket to Australia in 2015 for the prestigious AFC Asian Cup. -