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Azkals miss out on elusive win against Malaysia in warm-up friendly

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A familiar result greeted the Philippine Azkals and Harimau Malaysia when they figured in another goalless draw on Tuesday evening, in a friendly match held at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

It marked the fifth straight stalemate between the two neighboring countries, a result that perhaps frustrated the Azkals, who felt they had the upper hand in the encounter.

The Filipinos turned up the heat straight from kickoff when Amani Aguinaldo’s clever diagonal pass located Phil Younghusband on the edge of the box. The skipper met the ball but fell in the most unfortunate of moments and while there was a shout for a penalty, the officials were not convinced.

Eight minutes into the contest, they had the ball in the back of the net but the effort was disallowed by the linesman’s flag. Apparently, the Loyola danger man had received Javi Patiño’s pass from an offside position.

The Henan Jianye forward, who returned to international duty after missing the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup, proved why he had been sorely missed in the regional tournament, as his presence in the attacking third had to be strictly monitored by the Malaysians.

In the 13th minute, he was through on goal and set to meet Misagh Bahadoran’s pass. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough pace to beat Ronny Harun, who cleared the ball from danger. Shortly, a better moment came for Patiño as he was found by Iain Ramsay right in front of goal. Short of pace earlier, this time he failed to pack his shot with more power to beat Malaysia goalkeeper Mohd Khairulazhan Mohd Khalid.

Sustaining the momentum, the Azkals looked eager to reward the home fans with a goal which nearly came in the 20th minute courtesy of P. Younghusband. Having the ball on the edge of the box, the Philippines’ record goalscorer initially lost control of the ball before recovering in time to test Mohd Khalid.

In the half hour mark of the game, Azkals Coach Thomas Dooley was forced to make an early change with Bahadoran hurting his knee. Mike Ott came to his place and almost made an immediate impact. The substitute managed to shoot a deflected effort coming from a brilliant pass made by Junior Muñoz. In the resulting corner, Aguinaldo also came close to breaking the deadlock, if he had only managed to guide the ball with his head more accurately.

Down the other end of the pitch, Neil Etheridge had very little to do in the opening 45 minutes of the game. Whenever the Malaysians had possession in the attacking third, the Azkals defense made things tough for the visitors, as Safee Sali and Hazwan Bakri saw their movements eventually fizzle out.

Halftime soon came with the score staying level at 0-0, perhaps to the visitors’ relief, as they had just managed to go to the second half still on level footing with the Azkals.

Seemingly discontent, the Filipinos began the second half with the same vigor in which they had started the game with. The difference was there were less clear cut chances generated as the Malaysian defense coped with them better.

Neutralizing the Azkals threat, the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup champions began to move with more confidence on the attack. Sadly for them, the quality of passing in the attacking third did not improve, turning the game into a rearguard battle.

As time went by, the Azkals regained momentum and were poised to break the deadlock entering the final stages of the match. In the 72nd minute, substitute Hikaru Minegishi forced a save from Mohd Khalid, who also read an Aguinaldo header well moments later.

Towards the end, the Malaysians became more dangerous. Their aggressive approach led to a penalty appeal by the referee, as Veenod Subramainam thought he was fouled inside the box. Instead there was nothing given and the Filipinos cleared the ball away from harm.

The Selangor marksman may have actually won the game for the Malaysians if not for his sorry miss from around 12 yards in the 89th minute. The flag stayed down and with only Etheridge to beat, Subramainam squandered the gilt-edged chance.

He was almost made to rue the miss as a late charge by the Philippines almost won them the game. Fitch Arboleda had the last kick of the game, but the Stallion midfielder could only sent the ball wide to conclude another draw between the two teams.

“I think the team did a good job. We made chances [and] we had possession most of the time. That’s what we expected,” Thomas Dooley said after the game, while also revealing that the team had played to the plan and just fell short in punishing their opponents by not making their chances count.

Satisfied with the overall performance, Dooley only issued one demand to his charges, and that was to play sharper in front of goal ahead of the more important match against Nepal on Wednesday.

“We need to score goals to win games so our focus on the next couple of days will be on finishing, finishing, finishing. We have to win four games (in the qualifiers) and we start with Nepal at home, so we need to score goals,” the former US captain elaborated.

As mentioned, the Azkals will host Nepal at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in the first game out of the six group stage games to be played in the last round of 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. The game is set to kick off at 8:30 in the evening.

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Bienvenido Marañon, Iain Ramsay strike as Ceres knocks out Kaya to reach Finals

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Photo from Ceres Media

It is but fitting to see the 2017 Philippines Football League final contested by one of region’s top teams in Ceres-Negros Football Club.

Following a 1-0 away win against Kaya-Makati last week at the University of Makati field, the Busmen were just 90 minutes away from competing in the first PFL final. And they did so after picking up a 2-1 win in the second leg of the semifinals, Saturday evening at Panaad Stadium.

Bienvenido Marañon provided Ceres with a dream start when he headed Arnie Pasinabo’s cross into goal in the 30th minute to give the home side’s fans something to cheer about.

Marañon’s header not only handed Ceres first blood in the game, 1-0 — it also gave a valuable 2-0 lead on aggregate.

But Kaya refused to give up. Down 0-1 after the first leg, Noel Marcaida’s men knew they had to score an away goal to give themselves a fighting chance of making it to the finals.

The away side’s prayers were answered two minutes before halftime. Miguel Tanton saw his free kick parried away by Ceres goalie Roland Muller, only for the latter to watch as Antonio Ugarte rebounded the ball towards the back of the net.

Ceres and Kaya drew 1-1 at the break, which meant both clubs had much to play for in the next 45 minutes.

The two clubs had multiple opportunities to get that all-important second goal after the break and it was Negros who found a way to break the stalemate thanks to clever individual skill.

Iain Ramsay took advantage of some faulty Kaya defending when he intercepted the ball and looped over Kaya goalie Ref Cuaresma, who could only watch at that moment in the 78th minute.

Kaya failed to find another goal in them to give themselves hope.

Ceres’ 2-1 victory gave them a 3-1 aggregate win over Kaya. The win allows Risto Vidakovic’s men to advance to the PFL finals, where they will meet Visayas neighbors Global Cebu for the right to be crowned champions on December 16 .

Qualification to the 2018 AFC Cup has also been assured for Ceres thanks to this victory, while participation in the 2018 AFC Champions League is also possible if the Bacolod club wins the championship.

On the other hand, Kaya will face Metro Manila rivals Manila Meralco for the third place playoff, also on December 16. Possible qualification for the 2018 AFC Cup is at stake for the winner.

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Rufo Sanchez, Global eliminate Meralco, set up showdown with Ceres

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Eliminated in the 2017 AFC Cup knockout round and lost in the recently concluded 2017 Singapore Cup final, one can be forgiven for thinking that Global Cebu just doesn’t have any gas left in its tank after so many heartbreaks this year.

Come the end of a grueling second leg contest against Meralco Manila, Global showed a champion’s heart to seal a 1-1 draw tonight at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.

The draw was enough to see Cebu through to the 2017 Philippines Football League finals as Akbar Nawas’ men prevailed 2-1 last week.

Rufo Sanchez’s 85th minute goal proved to be the moment which brought Global to the promised land.

“I think it was a very hard fought match,” commented Nawas. “Yes we conceded an early goal but that didn’t mean we had to panic. I knew with this team we could always get a goal back.”

Global endured the worst possible start it could have envisioned in the game. Meralco got he goal it needed to calm its nerves after just two minutes of play when the Sparks’ pressing forced Global into its own half which led to Curt Dizon opening the scoring.

From then on, Meralco sought to protect its lead which would have guaranteed them a place in the finals thanks to the away goals rule.

Meralco opted to allow Global to attack in the hopes of springing a counterattack while the latter was comfortable with possession. Cebu could have leveled the game at the 8th minute but Wesley Dos Santos’ header was ruled out due to offside.

The Cebu club kept on pounding on Meralco’s door and got another chance to get that equalizer when Pika Minegishi’s freekick found its way to Rufo whose header hit the crossbar.

Meralco carried a precarious one-goal edge at halftime as Global looked the more likely to score the inevitable second goal in the contest.

A similar tale followed upon the game’s resumption. Meralco as good as parked the but and left itself susceptible for a Global onslaught. Minegishi thought he got Global’s leveler only for Meralco defender Joaquin Cañas to clear the ball at the goalline.

Cebu inched closer to the goal. Meralco goalie Jun Badelic turned away a Darryl Roberts freekick to keep the scores as it was. Come the 85th minute, Global finally got the goal it deserved.

Rufo capitalized on a Meralco misclearance to put the ball past Badelic amd send everything into bedlam. Global players were relieved and in a celebratory mood while the Sparks looked as if they didn’t have any ideas left to force extra time.

Global ended up 1-0 victors and 3-2 winners in aggregate. The Dan Palami-owned club not only secured itself a ticket in for the December 16 final against Ceres Negros, it also booked a seat for the 2018 AFC Champions League or 2018 AFC Cup at the very least.

On the other hand, Meralco will also play next week on December 16 for their third place playoff match against rivals Kaya Makati. The winner of that match could secure possible participation in the 2018 AFC Cup.

“This is all credit to the players and what we’ve trained last week and that information that we’ve given them. But take nothing away from Rufo’s goal and the way the players fought,” concluded Nawas.

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Philippines grouped with China, Thailand in 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup

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There is no such thing as an easy road towards glory

The Philippine Women’s National Football Team qualified for the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup earlier this year in Tajikistan, excitement arose as to who the Filipinas will face in the big dance this April 6 to 20, 2018 in Jordan.

After a draw was held at the King Hussein bin Talal Convention Center in Jordan, the Philippines will now face host nation Jordan, the People’s Republic of China and regional neighbors Thailand.

Both China and Thailand competed in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup that was held in Canada. China reached the quarterfinals stage while Thailand was eliminated at the group stage. China and Thailand are ranked 13 and 29 respectively in the latest FIFA Women’s World Rankings.

Thailand and the Philippines last faced off in the 2017 SEA Games held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which the Thais won 3-1.

On the other hand, Jordan is ranked 50 in the current rankings. The last time the Philippines and Jordan faced each other was April 12, 2017 in the Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers where the latter enjoyed a a comfortable 1-5 victory.

All things considered, this is a kind draw as the other group includes South Korea, Australia, Vietnam and Japan.

The target for the Filipinas would undoubtedly be to qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup that will be held in France. There are five slots available in this tournament and a fifth place finish will be enough for the Philippines to book a ticket.

The team will be handled by American coach Richard Boon who is the squad’s first male coach since 2013. The Filipinas’ participation in the upcoming tourney will also be the country’s first entry since the 2003 edition.

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Young Philippines squad loses twice in Chinese Taipei tourney

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A national selection mostly composed of UAAP and Philippines Football League players took to the international stage last December 1 to 5 in Chinese Taipei to compete in the Chinese Taipei Football Association International Tournament.

Davao Aguilas mentor Marlon Maro was the designated head coach, while the team was managed by the Mindanao club’s owner Jefferson Cheng.

Stallion Laguna and Davao were the PFL clubs who released players for the team. Laguna sent over Nathanael Alquiros, Fitch Arboleda, Ruben Doctora Jr., Yannick Tuason, and Reynald Villareal. On the other hand, the bulk of the team came from Davao.

The Davao players were Junell Bautista, Jaime Cheng, Justin Cheng, Reymart Cubon, Dylan De Bruycker, Angel Guirado, James Hall, Nick O’Donnell, Simone Rota, James Younghusband, and Phil Younghusband.

Current UAAP stars in the lineup include Julian Clarino, Christian Lapas, and Kintaro Miyagi of the University of the Philippines; Javier Gayoso of the Ateneo de Manila University; and Ray Joyel of the Far Eastern University.

Kaya Makati’s Adam Tull and Thailand League 2 side Angthong United’s Mike Ott rounded up the members of Maro’s team.

All games were held at the Municipal Stadium in Taipei.

Maro’s men were off to a fine start to the competition last December 1 when they defeated Laos 3-1. Phil Younghusband took advantage of an assist from his brother James to open the scoring in the 35th minute.

Come the second half, Guirado overpowered the opposition defense to double the Azkals’ edge, while Miyagi sealed the win afterwards late in the period. With the Philippines’ win all but clinched, Laos managed to score a consolation goal in stoppage time.

Two days later came a rude awakening for the team. Up against host nation Chinese Taipei, the Philippines folded 0-3 after 90 minutes.

Headers from forward Mao Li in the 38th and 62nd minutes powered Chinese Taipei to a commanding two-goal cushion against the Philippines. The Filipinos failed to retaliate and were left to succumb to another header, this time from Ting-Yang Chen, rounded up the 0-3 loss.

The Filipinos’ last day in the competition was on December 5 against East Timor. The fixture was seen as an opportunity for the Filipinos to bounce back.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan. The Filipinos failed to score for the second straight game, and were left to concede a sucker punch late in the game when Da Silva Garcia Silverio Da Resurecio eluded the Philippines’ defense shot past Joyel for the game’s only goal.

The Philippines ended up losing 0-1 to East Timor, in what was arguably its most embarrassing result in this competition.

Ultimately, the team won one game and lost twice in this pocket tournament. It just goes to show that there is still so much to be done in order to beef up talent pools, whether for the main Azkals squad or youth teams.

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