By Karlo Sacamos
NOT even the improved cohesion of the Philippine men's football team prevented the Azkals from bowing to Azerbaijan, 0-1, in their Fifa friendly on Wednesday night at the Al Shabab Stadium in Dubai.
The reinforced Azkals surrendered an early goal from the quality European side, before showing enough resolve in the remainder of the match in neutral territory.
It was an admirable result for the Filipino booters, who held their own and even threatened at times against the taller, technically superior Azerbaijanis in the match that saw seven yellow cards handed out.
Ranked 34 spots ahead of the Azkals in the world, the Europeans unlocked the Philippine defense 26 minutes into the game when Erat Tugkul took advantage of his height advantage over Rob Gier to score the all-important header off a corner from the right side.
With overseas-based standouts Stephan Schrock, Javier Patiño, and Jerry Lucena bolstering the side, the Azkals continued to show an improved passing game under new coach Thomas Dooley.
The Azkals pressed to score an equalizer in the second half, where Phil Younghusband struck a free kick that just went over, before Patrick Reichelt conjured the Filipinos' best chance with a header that was just saved by the fingertips of the Azerbaijan goalkeeper.