By Karlo Sacamos
THE Philippine men’s football team fell short of a sizzling start in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup as it settled for a scoreless draw against Afghanistan on early Wednesday at the Hithadhoo Stadium in Addu City, Maldives.
The Azkals created a handful of scoring chances, including a close conversion by James Younghusband, but ultimately failed to find the back of the net against the fortress-like Afghan defense, led by goalkeeper Mansur Faqirayar.
Still, it was a positive result for the 140th-ranked Filipino booters, who managed to hold off a South Asian champion that’s the highest-ranked nation at 128th in the tournament featuring teams from emerging footballing nations in the continent.
The Filipinos and the Afghans thus wound up tied in second spot with one point each behind early Group B leader Turkmenistan, which registered three points after hammering fourth-running Laos, 5-1, on Tuesday night.
Chances came few and far between in the first half for the Azkals, who missed the presence of top scorer Phil Younghusband as well as fellow suspended player in center-back Rob Gier for the match that was delayed for an hour due to heavy rains.
Stephan Schrock, Daisuke Sato, and Martin Steuble conjured attempts that were just off target for the Azkals, whose improved passing game under new coach Thomas Dooley seemed absent at times.
The Filipinos, though, were inches away from scoring near the end of the first 45 minutes when Phil’s older brother’s header off a corner was just denied by the crossbar.
Afghanistan was also in a similar situation that would’ve been the winner in second-half stoppage when skipper Islam Amir’s header also hit the woodwork.
The result left the Azkals with third straight stalemate and fourth in the last six matches, including friendlies, this year.
The Azkals next face the Laotians on Thursday night.