By Cedelf Tupas
HAWALLI—Unable to build on a stellar yet unlucky first half performance, the Philippine Azkals fell in a 0-3 defeat to Middle East powerhouse Kuwait in the opening leg of their second round World Cup Qualifying duel here.
The Al-Azraq backed up their pedigree with a solid attacking display to thump the hard-fighting Filipinos, who had two shots that hit the crossbar in the first 30 minutes.
The second leg is slated Thursday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila with the Azkals needing to win by four goals or more to make the third round for the first time.
“Anything is still possible in the second leg,” said Azkals coach Hans Michael Weiss.
“This time it’s not over. We still have 90 minutes in Manila,” said Kuwait coach Goran Tufegdzic.
There was no doubting the Kuwaitis’ dominance on this night, though.
Yousef Naser opened the scoring, before goals from Mesad Nasa and Fahed El-Ibrahim sealed the victory for the Kuwaitis, who are now well-positioned to reach the third round following the comprehensive win.
The Azkals, who missed skipper Aly Borromeo and Stephan Schrock due to suspension, put up a solid, resolute stand in the first half to stifle a Kuwaiti attack, but were unlucky to concede and also not get on the scoresheet, with Phil Younghusband and Angel Guirado both getting golden chances to score in the opening 30 minutes.
Looking to finish off a quick counter-attacking move, Younghusband drew a diving save from Nawaf Al Khaldi on a one-on-one, setting up the corner that nearly gave Guirado the first goal.
But the Fil-Spanish striker headed Chieffy Caligdong’s corner to the crossbar and Jason Sabio’s header was cleared off the line by Hussain Fadhel.
The chances only woke up the Kuwaitis, who within seconds, finally grabbed the lead thanks to young striker Yousef Naser.
Fahad Al-Enezi, the right winger, who had proven to be a menace on attack, beat Manny Ott and Chieffy Caligdong to cross for Yousef, who banged the header into the bottom corner past the flailing arms of Neil Etheridge.
The Al-Azraq’s possession play was still negated by some resolute defending by the Azkals and on the counter, the visitors came close again in the 30th minute.
Anton del Rosario launched a long throw from the backline to Guirado, whose lofted ball found a rushing Younghusband on the run.
Finding space to shoot, Younghusband rifled a thunderous shot from just outside the area, forcing another reflex save from Al-Khaldi and the slightest of touches allowed the ball to ricochet off the crossbar again.
The tide began to change in the second half when the Al-Azraq put more pressure on the defensive line from the left flank, leading to several corner kicks and half-chances.
The pressure paid off in the 66th minute when defender Mesad Nada poked the ball home during a scramble in the box after his header off a corner was blocked.
The Al-Azraq’s pattern of dominance continued and with five minutes remaining with the Azkals growing weary, Fahed El-Ibrahim fired a shot from 20 yards to beat Etheridge.
The score would have been a little more lopsided if not for a couple of close range stops from Etheridge, who flew in from England on the eve of the match.
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