The Philippine Azkals resumed their joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign on the backfoot, suffering a 0-2 defeat at the hands of China, Tuesday (Manila time) at the Sharjah Stadium in UAE.
The result formally ended any chance for the Azkals to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Still, they are on track to make it to the third qualifying round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup as the Filipinos currently remain at third place in Group A with 7 points.
On the other hand, China solidified its hold on second place in the group with 13 points behind leader Syria, which has 21.
“I think China deserved to win the game for sure,” admitted Azkals coach Scott Cooper. “Although if you look at the chances, it’s quite similar. We had some good chances in the first half. I need to look at the penalty again. I don’t know if it was a clear penalty or not, but it looked like it was one. So we can’t argue with that.“
The Azkals fought resiliently, as embodied by new defender Jefferson Tabinas. Their counterparts from China, though, were just a level ahead in the end.
Wu Lei, the Filipinos’ tormentor in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, broke the deadlock with a penalty at the 57th minute. He won the spot kick after a foul on him by Philippines goalkeeper Bernd Schipmann.
China’s pressure proved too much for the Philippines, as Li Tie’s men were able to double their lead in the 65th minute.
No Azkals defender was able to see Wu Xinghan, who remained unmarked at the far post. He converted from close range to effectively seal the three points.
The second half goals undid the good work of Cooper’s men in the opening period as they were able to hold the Chinese to a goalless stalemate.
Though they had 11 players behind the ball for most of the period, forward Mark Hartmann saw two good chances to break the deadlock. Unfortunately, his first shot was too tame and he saw it cleared easily. On the other hand, his header forced a good save from China’s Yan Junling.
The Azkals also had to withstand injuries to key players in the first half.
Veteran Martin Steuble had to replace debutant defender Michael Kempter after getting elbowed inadvertently by an opponent. Meanwhile, Kenshiro Daniels had a hamstring issue, which forced Cooper to bring in Jarvey Gayoso.
“But what I can say is, in the first half, my left-back (Michael Kempter) had his nose broken, and that doesn’t happen unless somebody breaks it,” divulged an infuriated Cooper. “The linesman stood in front of him, the referee is in sight of him, he gets his nose broken.
“When I asked the referee about what did he find, how did his nose get broken, you know what the referee said to me? He laughed at me and said ‘Haha he broke his own nose’. That’s what the referee said to me at halftime.”
Deep in the second half, midfielder Mark Winhoffer also made his Azkals debut. He and Luke Woodland came on for defender Carli De Murga and Mike Ott.
The Philippines shall look to bounce back on this when it faces Guam this Friday at 10:00 PM at the Sharjah Stadium in Sharjah, UAE.
Philippines XI: Schipmann (GK), De Murga, Tabinas, Ott, Guirado, Bias, Schrock ©, Reichelt, Kempter, Hartmann, Daniels.
China XI: Yan Junling (GK), Wang Shenchao, Zhang Linpeng, Jiang Guangtai, Wu Lei, Ai Kesen, Zhang Xizhe, Jin Jingdao, Wu Xi (C), Wu Xinghan, Tang Miao.