The Philippine Azkals stayed perfect in the ongoing 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers after scoring twice against hapless Yemen in Tuesday evening’s game (Wednesday morning, Manila time) at the Qatar Sports Stadium in Doha, Qatar. It served as Yemen’s home game, but needed to be staged in a neutral venue, as conflict in their territory was deemed hazardous.
The game started on a high note for the Azkals. As early as the second minute, the Philippine National team had a decent chance at goal courtesy of the forward combo of Iain Ramsay and Misagh Bahadoran. The Global FC player rushed into the attacking third before setting up the overlapping Ramsay. However, Ramsay’s first touch was too heavy, and it went straight to the hands of the Yemeni Goalkeeper, Mohammed Ayashi, instead. The Yemeni Team would get an opportunity to grab the lead at the 18th minute with Abdulwasea Al Matari getting a shot off from outside the box that did not hit the mark. The shot attempt from their opponents revitalized the Azkals, and at the 28th minute they were given their own opportunity to go ahead. Javier Patiño tried to head in a cross from Bahadoran; the shot, however was not able to threaten Ayashi. After 10 minutes, the Filipinos had their best chance to score with Ramsay passing the ball to Bahadoran, who then connected to an unmarked Manny Ott inside the box. The Ceres player’s shot was palmed by Ayashi. The momentum and pace continued to favor the Philippine team, giving them an easier time to get to their attacking third, which led to a succession of chances. Yemen, in response, did well to contain the rampant Azkals’ attacking spells.
The restart began on a similar note as the first half, with the Philippines controlling the pace. It was Yemen, however, who had the first chance to score. Eleven minutes into the second half, a free kick was awarded to the team in red – the kick went straight to the stable hands of Neil Etheridge. In the succeeding play, the Azkals were finally able to take the lead. Obtaining possession inside the box, Patiño found a lurking Bahadoran, who expertly shrugged off his marker by turning around. Gifted with acres of space, the former national futsal team member directed the ball resoundingly into the top right corner of the net.
The Philippines kept on piling the pressure in their search for their second goal. The Arab side stayed compact behind the ball, but their resistance was broken again 22 minutes later. Etheridge drilled in his goal kick well inside the Yemeni half. It was headed by Reichelt into the path of Patiño, who outpaced his defender down the right wing. Gaining a yard or two, the Spanish-born Azkal striker whipped in a low cross towards the six-yard box, where the ball was aptly slid in by Ramsay. Down by two goals with only 16 minutes left, Yemen threatened the Philippine team’s lead with attempts created from dead ball situations, but the back line held the fort properly. As soon as the referee blew the final whistle, the Azkals celebrated their first World Cup Qualifiers victory abroad.
“I’m happy with the result. I’m very happy and humbled about the way we played today. Almost everything worked,” Azkals Head Coach Thomas Dooley said after the match. According to him, it boiled down to his team playing on the same page throughout the match. Victorious, the Azkals move on top of group H together with DPR Korea. Both teams sport a 100% record in their first two World Cup Qualifier games. The Azkals will face Uzbekistan next on September 8 on home soil.