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Azkals start qualifiers with important win over Bahrain



Goals from substitute Misagh Bahadoran and renowned goalscorer Javi Patiño were enough for the Philippines to begin their 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup joint qualifying campaign on a high by beating Bahrain 2-1 earlier this evening at the Philippine Sports Stadium. The Azkals coped well with Bahrain’s early attacks before seizing the lead for good in the opening five minutes of the second half.

The home side was eager to stretch the Bahraini defense in the opening five minutes. The visitors, however, were successful in preventing the ball to enter their penalty box during the early sequence. Against the run of play, they swiftly moved forward in order to exploit a vast area left unsupervised by the Philippine defense. Sayed Ali Hashem ended up with possession and was charging down into the goal but pressure from Rob Gier forced him to shoot harmlessly wide nine minutes into the game. A couple of minutes later, the Bahrain forward misfired another shot. This time around, it was off a free kick earned by Faouzi Aaish after being fouled by Daisuke Sato. Shortly after Bahrain’s second chance in the match, the Philippines nearly went ahead courtesy of Patiño. The 27-year-old striker was on the end of a delicate lobbed through pass by Jerry Lucena. Upon receiving the ball, Patiño rushed towards the box before his shot from just outside the six-yard box was denied by Bahrain goalie Sayed Mohamed Abbas.

At the 23rd minute, Stephan Schröck’s participation came to an abrupt end. He had to be taken off the game for Misagh Bahadoran as he appeared to have suffered an injury. After the Philippines’ first personnel change, Bahrain regained attacking rhythm which led to three good scoring chances in the half. Mohamed Tayeb Alalawi forced Neil Etheridge to action for the first time in the match 24 minutes into the game. Shortly afterwards, Abdulla Shallal headed a cross from the left flank high and wide. Just after the half hour mark elapsed, Abdulwahab Ali Alsafi’s strike from distance was held routinely by Etheridge.

Not willing to simply defend throughout the match, the Philippines were in the mood to claim the breakthrough goal in the last 10 minutes of the half. Martin Steuble had a clean look at goal at the 36th minute but the Ceres-La Salle midfielder squandered his long range effort way off target. Seven minutes before halftime, skipper Phil Younghusband linked up with Iain Ramsay. With enough room to shoot from outside the box, Younghusband managed to shoot on goal but Abbas held onto it. A string of botched plays then took place before the referee blew the halftime whistle. At the break, the score remained at 0-0.

After the restart, the hosts established momentum. Bahadoran and Manny Ott may have failed in locating Ramsay and Patiño respectively with their through balls but it built up the rhythm that resulted in a game-changing moment. Off a throw-in by the debuting Stephan Palla, Younghusband controlled the ball en route to floating a well-struck cross into the box. The captain’s delivery was then clinically tapped by Bahadoran into the net to merit a resounding roar from the 6,000-strong crowd. Nine minutes later, the Azkals doubled their lead courtesy of the man known as Patigol. In a free kick earned by Ramsay, Ott drilled the ball into the six-yard box. Abbas was unable to catch the ball which then loosely bounced inside the area. First to the ball, Patiño instinctively sent the ball into the back of the net to pad the Filipinos’ lead.

Bahrain sought to reply instantly but substitute Abdulla Yaser blew a couple of his chances off target in the space of his first five minutes in action. With time slowly winding down, the Philippines nearly sealed the match with two chances created by the tandem of Ramsay and Bahadoran. The Fil-Australian winger sent two fine crosses towards the Global captain but none of them resulted in a third for the Azkals. Instead, it was the Bahrainis who claimed the game’s third goal. Deep into added time, Abdulwahab Al Malood expertly weaved past the Filipino defense prior to sneaking it past Etheridge. His goal did little, however, in dampening the mood of the Azkals who marched on to a victorious opening game in the joint World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers.

Speaking after the win, Azkals’ coach Thomas Dooley was visibly pleased with the display of his players. “I’m very happy with the performance of the team today. We knew that Bahrain is a very tough team to play against,” he stated, adding that an absolute team effort towed them towards the victory. The Philippines will attempt to win their second straight win in the qualifiers in their clash against Yemen. The fixture is scheduled to be played on Tuesday evening (Wednesday 12mn Manila time), in Doha, which is a neutral ground, in light of the ensuing political unrest in the country.

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