After an arduous journey to North Korea which took 18 to 24 hours for the Philippine National Men’s Football Team (Azkals) and their backroom staff, a precious away point was earned in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualification campaign. The Azkals have now taken seven points out of a possible 12 in their 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualification stint. Advancing to the next round of qualifiers assures the Azkals of a slot in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
The venue for this match was the 50,000 seater Kim Il-Sung stadium in Pyongyang.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley set up his team in the same way as in their past few games, sticking with the 3-4-3 formation that has brought two wins out of a possible three in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. Neil Etheridge retained his place in goal with Jerry Lucena, Luke Woodland and Amani Aguinaldo as his center-backs in front of him. Martin Steuble and Daisuke Sato played as wing-backs while captain Phil Younghusband and Maunel Ott manned the central midfield. Stephan Schrock was chosen to play as a make-shift striker in light of Javier Patino’s absence. Supporting Schrock in attack were wingers Patrick Reichelt and Iain Ramsay. The 3-4-3 of the Azkals had the potential to be transitioned into a 5-4-1 in case the Philippines were on the back foot.
— dan stephen palami (@dscpalami) October 8, 2015
The first half saw the Azkals start well, keeping the ball properly and combining with one another to force an opening into North Korea’s defense. North Korea resorted to bypassing their midfield and just kept on using the long ball to penetrate the Azkals’ defense. Aside from one or two shaky moments in the defense, the team maintained its discipline with Etheridge having a more assured display compared to the last game versus Uzbekistan. Younghusband and Woodland were the closest to scoring for the Philippines as the former directed his free kick over the bar and the latter just shot wide of the goal.
The North Korean supporters inside the stadium were restless going into halftime as they were actually leading 4-0 by then against Uzbekistan.
It was a familiar story come the second half as the North Koreans were more aggressive in attack. The Azkals’ defense had a shaky start as Woodland and Etheridge had a defensive mix-up only for the goalkeeper to punch the ball out. The North Koreans had chance after chance but it was to no avail even if some of the Azkals lost the ball in dangerous parts of the pitch. Save for losing possession once and his yellow card in the first half, Aguinaldo was a rock in the three man defense. By the latter stages of the second half, the Azkals were doing all they can to get away with a precious point. An incredible eight minutes of stoppage time was called by the match officials but the Azkals held on with crucial saved in the end by Etheridge to deny the hosts that winning goal.
Mission accomplished for the Azkals as they now head to their next game with a much needed point against the much fancied North Korea.
Up next for the Azkals is another tricky away match, this time against Bahrain on October 13, 2015. The previous encounter between the Philippines and Bahrain was a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying game which saw the Azkals earn a 2-1 home win in the Philippine Arena last June 11, 2015.
*Information for this match report were based on tweets of Cedelf Tupas of Inquirer Sports.