Karl Decena, InterAksyon.com
The Philippine national men’s football team battled familiar foe Malaysia to a goalless result in an international friendly match on Saturday night at the MPS Stadium in Selayang, Malaysia
The match served as a baptism of fire for new Azkals coach Thomas Dooley, who introduced a couple of new and returning players into the lineup after taking over the squad last January.
The Azkals missed a chance to grab the early lead when star striker Phil Younghusband hit the side of the net in the opening minutes. Playing before a hostile hometown crowd, the Filipinos got a boost from the comebacking Ruben Doctora.
But Malaysia, which also debuted interim coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee, displayed its offensive attack in the first half, even converting a header that was disallowed by referees. Goalkeeper Patrick Deyto, who earned his first international cap for the Azkals, also made some crucial saves for the Filipinos.
The match was halted at the 32nd minute when fire flared up that was reportedly ignited by the raucous fans inside the stadium.
When action resumed, the Malaysians continued to pounce on the offensive end, with star striker Safee Sali finding chances at the goal which the Azkals defense weathered until the halftime whistle.
Younghusband found another chance at the 64th minute, only to be denied by the Malaysian goalkeeper.
The Malaysians threatened to score the game-winning goal for multiple times late in the match, but their shots failed to find the back of the net.
Substitute Jason De Jong also escaped past defenders for a near goal chance, only to be stifled by the Malaysian defense.
The 127th-ranked Azkals held the 150th-ranked Malaysians to a third straight draw in a head-to-head matchup which Malaysia has dominated over the years.
The Azkals will next face Azerbaijan on Wednesday in Dubai as part of their preparation for the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup in May, where the tournament champion earns a ticket to the prestigious Asian Cup in 2015.