Last November 12, 2015, the Philippine Men’s National Football team succumbed to a 0-1 defeat against Yemen at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila, which hastened their exit from 2018 World cup qualification.
Tonight, revenge was far from the Azkals’ minds in their 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification match against Yemen, but no retribution was given, as both teams had to make do with a 2-2 draw at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
Right from the get-go, the Azkals looked to impose themselves on the visitors. The Filipinos bossed possession and sought to put an early goal in, with Yemen goalkeeper Mohamed Ayash watching on as Phil Younghusband, Kevin Ingreso, and Mike Ott tried their luck to no avail.
In contrast, the Yemeni were content to sit back on defense in order to force a counterattack against the unsuspecting Filipinos. With an unfamiliar back four of Stephan Palla, Dennis Villanueva, Carli de Murga, and Junior Muñoz, the Azkals were susceptible to any sucker punch.
Yemen forward Ahmed Al-Sasori forced a good save from Azkals goalie Neil Etheridge from one such instance, as the former proved to be a constant thorn in the Azkals’ defense all throughout the contest.
Unfortunately for the home side, it was Yemen that broke the deadlock. From a counterattack cleared by Muñoz, the visitors made good use of the corner kick, and Yemen defender Mudir Al-Radaei headed the ball into the Philippines’ net after 26 minutes of action.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the Philippines to get the equalizer. Undeterred with the early setback, the Azkals immediately bombarded the Yemen box, forcing forward Mohammed Ba Rowis to foul Azkals skipper Phil Younghusband.
Phil Younghusband stepped up to take the free kick in the 29th minute, and unleashed a powerful shot that left Ayash helpless. Both squads were level at halftime level, a fair result given the run of play. The shot marked his 47th international goal.
Come the second half, it was the Azkals who once again found themselves on the backfoot. Moments after Iain Ramsay failed to score with the Yemen defense in disarray, the Yemeni launched another counterattack.
The Azkals failed to quickly get back on defense, and one quick pass to Abdul Al-Matari was all it took, as the forward eluded an onrushing Etheridge to put the ball into the open goal for the lead in the 54th minute. It was a huge blow for the Azkals as they failed to heed the lessons of the past.
Already a goal down for the second time in the game, the Azkals almost had to overcome two, as another good play from the visitors saw Al-Sasori threaten to score. Luckily, the forward’s shot struck the side-netting.
Desperation was creeping in for the home side, and anything but a loss would do. The Filipinos earned another free kick deep in the Yemen half, and Manny Ott then delivered a good ball into the box that was headed in by substitute defender James Younghusband in the 71st minute.
It was James Younghusband’s 11th goal for the Philippines, and it came at a special time as his birthday took place a day before the game. The Azkals then were down to 10-men in the game’s final stages as substitute defender Luke Woodland had to pull out with an injury after all substitutions were used.
In the end, the Philippines had to settle for a 2-2 draw against Yemen. While a defeat was avoided, there was a sense of two big points lost against a tricky opponent. Nevertheless, the Azkals still lead Group F with 7 points while Yemen is closely behind with 5 points.
The Filipinos shall face Yemen once again on the next matchday of this third qualification round. The match will be held at the Saoud bin Abdulrahman Stadium, Al Wakrah in Qatar on October 10.
The other game of the group saw Tajikistan claim a 2-1 away win versus Nepal. Tajikistan is now at 3rd place with three points, while Nepal is 4th with zero.
Philippines XI: Etheridge (GK), Muñoz, De Murga, Villanueva, Palla, Mi Ott, Ma Ott, Ingreso, P. Younghusband ©, Misagh, Ramsay.
Yemen XI: Ayash (GK, C), Omar, Al-Radei, Al-Sarori, Al-Sasi, Al-Matari, Al-Hifi, Mahdi, Hasan, Saeed, Ba Rowis.