By Kevin Estrada
MANILA--The Philippines put one foot into the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal after escaping Panaad with a 1-1 draw with champions Thailand Wednesday evening.
Sven-Göran Eriksson's Azkals were set to get yet another defeat against the War Elephants, but substitute Jovin Bedic saved his blushes in the final quarter of an hour in the Group B match that put them both in the cusp of the last four as they are tied on the table with seven points apiece yet the visitors have the upper hand in goal difference.
With the draw, Indonesia's elimination from the biennial meet was confirmed after Singapore's 6-1 thrashing of East Timor in the other tie for the Lions' second win of the campaign.
That left their much anticipated tiff with the ASEAN's number two side in Jakarta's Bung Karno reduced to a dead rubber.
With the horror of East Timor's comeback try in their mind, the Swede made a gamble with Alvaro Silva set aside Paul Mulders in the centre-half with Carli De Murga, and Daisuke Sato had to be moved up at left midfield when Stephan Palla came in at left-back.
After a physical and heated first half that ended goalless, Thailand got the first strike 11 minutes after the restart when Suphachai Jaided converted on a Philip Roller cross on a counter that got the Azkals defence asleep on their duty, threatening to break the Panaad unbeaten run since Chinese Taipei pulled out a shocker five years ago.
However, the resolve of the side was put to the test and Eriksson's substitutions finally bore fruit when the Kaya Iloilo forward made an instant impact just three minutes after coming on for Palla, with his shot got a deflection that hit the post and wiggled past Chatchai Bootprom with nine minutes left.
"For me, we were the better team out there," said the former England boss after the match, as he thinks that the Azkals could have done more after the equalizer against the champions. "If we play football like this, I think we will qualify for the semifinals."
Philippines: Falkesgaard (GK), De Murga, Manny Ott, Phil YH (C) (James YH 88'), Sato (Ramsay 63', Schröck, Steuble, Palla (Bedic 78'), Alvaro Silva, Reichelt, Strauss
Thailand: Bootprom (GK), Chalermpong (C), Pansa, Puangjan, Adisak (Chayanan 88'), Poller, Tanaboon (Haiphrakorn 66'), A-Nan, Jaided (Mongkol 90+2'), Korrakot, Sanrawat