Playing away in arctic conditions with the temperature approaching ten below zero is a test for any team. But when the side in question has come from the sunshine and humidity of a tropical country, then the challenge is enormous regardless of the opponent. Such conditions greeted the Philippines when they played in Mongolia on Tuesday in the second leg qualifying play-off for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup.
Adding further to the hardship for the south-east Asians was the altitude in Ulan Bator, with the match staged at the MFF Football Centre, some 1,400 metres above sea level. The Azkals had already undergone a tumultuous build-up being in Japan last Friday when the disastrous earthquake struck.
The visitors held a 2-0 lead from last month’s first leg, and when midfielder James Younghusband opened the scoring after just three minutes the Filipinos appeared on their way to a comfortable victory. However Mongolia drew themselves level on 21 minutes courtesy of captain Lumbengarav Donorov, and thirteen minutes later they hit the front on the night when Garidmagnai Bayasgalan converted a spot-kick. With a berth in the tournament’s qualifying group on the line, Mongolia went on the offensive after the restart, but the Philippines remained resilient to hang for a 3-2 aggregate victory.
With their initial goal achieved, coach Michael Weiss could finally breathe a sigh of relief. “It was indeed a hard game for us,” the 46-year-old German told FIFA.com. “The cold weather did take its toll and our players found it difficult to play as well and as fast as in the previous game. This largely reduced our potency in the front.”