Mike Ott came to the rescue, as his 89th minute goal not only saved the Philippines’ blushes against Yemen — it also proved to be a vital equalizer in the Filipinos’ bid to make it to the AFC Asian Cup for the very first time.
The late strike earned Thomas Dooley’s Azkals a valuable point away from home, frustrating a Yemeni side that dominated proceedings on Tuesday night at the Saoud Bin Abdulrahman stadium in Al-Wakra, Qatar.
Ott finished off a fine move that began from the right when game-changers Junior Muñoz and James Younghusband connected to unlock the Yemeni defense. The Davao Aguilas midfielder then drilled the ball to Ott, whose finish from about 10 yards is of someone whose poise and elegance showed in a pressure-packed moment.
Playing away from home for the second time in this round, the Philippines began the game positively hoping to replicate the success in Dushanbe. They had more of the possession in the first 10 minutes, but they couldn’t come up with enough chances to trouble Yemeni goalkeeper Mohammed Ayash. Speculative but decent shots from Mike Ott, Daisuke Sato, and Kevin Ingreso didn’t do much to test the hosts, who gradually shifted the momentum of the game towards their favor.
As Yemen settled down and forced their way around the Philippine half, the Azkals faced a stern test to keep their foes from drawing first blood. There were times the Filipinos would interrupt the Yemenis’ attacks but they lacked the creativity to break them down the other end. So it did not come as a surprise that the best chance of the half fell to the red shirts when Ala’a Al Sasi pounced on a loose ball before thumping the ball off Neil Etheridge’s crossbar. The Cardiff City custodian was fortunate the woodwork was low enough to bail out his team, and more particularly Dennis Villanueva, out. The Global defender carelessly gave away possession to invite Al Sasi from considerably attainable range.
The Filipinos weathered the first half storm generated by the home side, but it looked more like a containing job rather than one that would solidify their hold on top of Group F. The lack of creativity may well be attributed to the absences of Javi Patiño, Misagh Bahadoran and Manny Ott, who have been brilliant when playing together in Philippine colors.
Still, the likes of Manny Ott’s brother Mike, Phil Younghusband, Iain Ramsay, and Paul Mulders are all capable of providing a spark offensively. Given the platform to shine anew as they’ve had in their previous stints with the Azkals, those leading the line combined well to scare Yemen’s defense, which has been by far the best in the group.
Ramsay’s sharp low cross from the right located Ott whose touch sent the ball towards Younghusband’s way. The country’s leading goalscorer may have gotten to the ball had he been a little faster as Ayash successfully snuffed out the brewing Azkals’ attack. What a fleeting chance that proved to be as the Middle Eastern side corralled control once again.
Nabil Hazaea struck the woodwork two minutes before the hour mark as his nifty move allowed him to gain room inside the Azkals’ box. Unfortunately for him, he hit the top part of the crossbar which bounced the ball away from the goal. It wasn’t the closest Yemen got as a few moments later, the visitors only had Sean Kane to thank as the JPV man got to block two quality attempts by Yemen.
The 26 year-old was powerless in stopping Yemen from scoring off a set piece moments after rescuing the team as a pinball inside the area saw the ball fell to Tawfiq Ali. The attacker was at the right place at the right time to swing the ball past Etheridge in the 63rd minute.
Falling behind, Azkals regrouped with Dooley shuffling his cards. He brought on players such as Junior Muñoz and James Younghusband and these moves duly paid off towards the end. As the Filipinos were staring at the barrel of defeat, the substitutes came up big by setting up the sequence finished off by the Angthong United midfielder in the penultimate minute of normal time. The visitors held on to a crucial point.
The result allows the Philippines to stay on top of Group F and gives them the opportunity to seal qualification to UAE with a win away to Nepal. While that won’t come easy, the unbeaten Azkals have previous encounters and fine form to look forward to as they hope to get the job done in Kathmandu. The fifth round of fixtures are slated on the 14th of November, with Yemen also set to host Tajikistan in Qatar.