Azkals leave nothing to chance, blank Turkmenistan for place in Challenge Cup semis
By Karlo Sacamos
LEAVING nothing to chance, the Philippine men’s football team blanked Turkmenistan, 2-0, to advance to the semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup on Saturday at the National Stadium in Male, Maldives.
The Azkals proved true to their word as they were relentless on their attacks despite only needing a draw.
In the end, they were rewarded with a convincing victory that enabled them to move closer to their ambitious goal of qualifying to the prestigious AFC Asian Cup next year.
Phil Younghusband and Patrick Reichelt provided the offensive punch, but it was Roland Muller who shone brightest on the defensive end for the Filipino booters, who emerged on top of Group B with seven points and set up a Final Four duel with host Maldives.
Afghanistan finished in second spot with five points to become the other semifinal qualifier in the bracket after settling for a scoreless draw against Laos in the day’s other game over at the Hithadhoo Stadium in Addu City.
In his second straight start, Muller proved worthy in the absence of injured English Premier League goalkeeper Neil Etheridge as he came up with a handful of impressive denials.
But none was more important than the superb save of a penalty strike late in the first half when the 26-year-old Muller guessed right on Aleksander Boliyan’s attempt that was awarded to Turkmenistan after Simone Rota committed a questionable foul two minutes before stoppage time.
That surely gave the Azkals confidence in the second half as Younghusband, in just his second game back, struck a curling free kick that went past the Turkemenistan wall and the goalkeeper into the net for the lead.
Younghusband, who jacked up his team-leading scoring tally to 35 international goals, conjured another close-range chance, as well as Stephan Schrock, before Reichelt found the back of the net for the second straight game.
Reichelt volleyed a precise cross from Martin Steuble from the left side to give the Azkals a commanding cushion in the 72nd minute.
The odds continued to lean toward the Azkals' favor six minutes later as the Turkmen went down to 10 men when Italmazov Farhad was sent off for picking up a second yellow card for a tackle.