THE Philippine men’s football team settled for a scoreless draw against Singapore in their historic Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup semifinal tie at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Saturday night, handing the advantage to the visitors heading to the second leg in midweek.
Drawing energy from a huge crowd that graced the Philippines' first home match in Southeast Asia's premier football competition, the Azkals dominated possession in the second half after a lackluster first 45 minutes but failed to find the net in the couple of clear scoring chances they managed to put together.
"We saw two different halves. We were too cautious and a little intimidated in the first half and we gave the opponent the possibility to play to their strength," Azkals coach Michael Weiss said. "We need to be more confident in order to make the next step to reach the finals."
Weiss, who missed the services of Filipino-Danish defensive midfield ace Jerry Lucena, was unsatisfied with Jason de Jong’s performance in the first half, prompting the coach to replace the Filipino-Dutch midfielder with Marwin Angeles.
Angeles, who scored the lone goal in the Azkals friendly win against Singapore in Cebu, repaid his coach’s faith as he did a better job facilitating the Azkals’ offense.
Their best chance came late in the second half when Paul Mulders' free-kick from just outside the box cleared the wall but drifted just wide of the upright.
Phil Younghusband also had a weak attempt off an Angel Guirado pass only to be stopped by the Singaporean goalkeeper in the first half.
If it was any consolation, the Filipino booters managed to keep a clean sheet for the third straight game since the group stage – their famed back four of Rob Gier, Juani Guirado, Carli de Murga, and Dennis Cagara once again holding their ground against the dangerous strike force of a team they have beaten twice in friendlies over the last three months.
Goalkeeper Eduard Sacapaño, the Azkals’ lone homegrown Filipino starter, likewise did a commendable job as he rejected numerous shots throughout the game.
More importantly, the Azkals did not allow an away goal which may be crucial at the end of the second leg, which will be on Wednesday at the Lions’ home turf at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Despite controlling possession in the first half, Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic felt his team could have played better.
“We were missing concentration in the first half because in that period we should have scored … but we should be happy the score ended 0-0. This means it will be a new game in Singapore,” the Serbian mentor said.
A victory or a draw with goals will propel the Azkals to a first-ever Finals appearance opposite the winner of the Thailand-Malaysia semifinal pairing.
“With (the Azkals scoring) a goal there, they have to score and against this solid defense. It won’t be easy for them even on home soil,” Weiss said.
Cagara, who was hit in the rib section during the game, was immediately brought to the hospital after the game for examination.
But Weiss thinks his injury, as well as Paul Mulders', are nothing serious.
“They were just tired, nothing spectacular, just minor.”