CEBU CITY - The Philippine men's football team settled for another goalless draw against Malaysia, but still left fans at the Cebu City Sports Center screaming in suspense on Sunday night.
In a match that served as a sendoff for the team bound for the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup in Maldives next month, the Azkals failed to figure out the puzzle that is the Malaysians anew as they came out with a fourth straight stalemate against their Southeast Asian neighbors in the last four years.
Patrick Deyto sparkled as the last line of defense, denying several shots, including a contentious late penalty awarded to Malaysia that averted what would've been a sorry loss for a Filipino side that continued to display its improved passing game under coach Thomas Dooley.
That resulted in dominating possession, although the finishing still left much to be desired as Ruben Doctora Jr., Patrick Reichelt, Martin Steuble, OJ Porteria, and Simone Rota were off target.
“The most important thing was we created chances,” Dooley said. “If we lose games like this and win the Challenge Cup, it’s good.”
The German-American mentor once again showed his trust to his players, utilizing five subs, including Carli de Murga, who made his return to the national side after suffering an ACL injury, and Jovin Bedic, who made his debut.
Nate Burkey provided the biggest spark off the bench, conjuring three clear-cut attempts, including the Azkals’ best chance that just hit the crossbar.
“Everybody who came in raised the level of play,” Dooley said.
“This was a different team compared to the one we faced last March,” Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee said. “And this one was obviously better.”
The Filipino booters, however, encountered a close call in stoppage time when the referee awarded Malaysia a penalty after Anton del Rosario, who wore the captain’s armband, appeared to commit a handball. But Deyto guessed Safee Sali’s right-leaning attempt correctly, sending the crowd into pandemonium.
The Azkals will have one last training camp in Bahrain before the Challenge Cup.