New Philippine national men’s football team head coach Thomas Dooley saw his side give him a scoreless draw in his debut, 0-0, against Malaysia in a friendly on Saturday, at the MPS Stadium in Selayang, Malaysia.
The Philippines had only ever beaten Malaysia on the pitch once, when the now-legendary 1991 Southeast Asian Games team inflicted a shocking 1-0 loss on Harimau Malaya. Since that time, the Azkals have drawn them twice, both in 2012, and lost numerous times in-between.
However, this felt like a new team. The Starting XI that took to the pitch was Thomas Dooley’s Azkals. Staples Phil Younghusband, Jeffrey Christiaens, Misagh Bahadoran, Rob Gier, Juani Guirado, and Chris Greatwich were there, but new faces peppered the lineup, with Patrick Deyto as goal keeper, plus the returning Mark Hartmann and other newbies, Ruben Doctora Jr., Simone Rota, and Martin Steuble.
The Azkals started the game well, with passes finding their mark and pressure on Malaysia from the start. Steuble, Younghusband, and Bahadoran worked well up front, but their attempts did not see the back of the net.
A Malaysian attempt by Amiridzwan Taj, a header around the 12th minute, found the back of the net, but the goal was disallowed after the Malaysian’s back hand hit his Azkal defender’s neck in mid-air
Around the 17th minute mark, Malaysian attempts hit the corner of the crossbar twice and then another attack saw the ball bounce off the post and graze past the face of the goal only to roll away at the last moment.
Hartmann was down and bloodied at the 22nd minute, and may have gotten an elbow to the head during the game. Hartmann received treatment for a few minutes, reducing the Azkals to ten men temporarily.
At the 31st minute, another team effort from Younghusband, Hartmann, and Bahadoran was thwarted at the last moment, but earned the Azkals a corner.
There were a few minutes of stoppage after the Azkals attempt, because it seemed like smoke from the flares had overwhelmed part of the stadium. A wide shot even showed a couple of flares being thrown towards and on to the pitch. After the smoke had dissipated go, the game restarted, and the Azkals took advantage of the short break, showing crisper passing.
Gier stopped Malaysian Safee Sali with a Gier-patented slide tackle inside the box. Later, a card was shown to Aidil Razak, captain of Harimau Malaya, on a tackle on Bahadoran.
Luck still held for the Philippines as the Malaysians launched attempt after attempt in the last five minutes of the half. Three minutes were added on to the half as Younghusband was pushed from behind. The free kick was well-taken by Christiaens but it found nothing and no one at the other end. Another attempt was taken by Malaysia but it looked offside and Deyto was up to task.
The Azkals started the second half in a more physical manner. Almost immediately, Steuble was called for a yellow card. The free kick for Malaysia was taken a couple of yards outside the box, but it came to nothing.
An attempt by Bahadoran was stopped inside the box, and the counter to the other side was brilliantly stopped by Deyto, who was having the game of his life.
For his part, Doctora was also giving the Malaysians some problems up front because of his speed and perhaps also because they were unfamiliar with him.
The defense was also doing very well in the game. This is perhaps the best performance of a back four for the Azkals in about a year and a half, with Rota being a huge addition to the defense.
Thomas Dooley then sent in a couple of substitutions, Patrick Reichelt came on for Doctora and then Jason de Jong came on for Greatwich.
The 61st minute of the game saw a sorry miss for the Azkals. Christiaens’ pass found Younghusband in a good position inside the box but his first touch was lacking and it rolled into the keeper’s hands.
The Harimau Malaya seemed slightly defanged in the second half. They had more than their fair share of sorry misses, perhaps also due to the number of rapid, sometimes double substitutions.
Meanwhile, Dooley continued to send in reinforcements. Porteria was swapped in for Bahadoran, Marwin Angeles for Steuble and then Anton del Rosario was sent in for Gier. Gier had been tackled pretty badly on the pitch, with both his legs taken out from under him.
The Malaysians struck back with consecutive attempts coming into the last 15 minutes, but the Philippine defense held, and Deyto ably saved what got past the defensive line.
The last player sent in by Dooley was Kenshiro Daniels, who replaced a tired-looking Phil Younghusband at the 88th minute. Younghusband had a great game, even though he was held scoreless.
The Malaysians tried their best for a goal in the dying minutes of the game, but their offense was mediocre at best, with their finish lacking any bite all throughout the game.
There were four minutes tacked on at the end of the game, and it was frantic times for both squads as they tried to desperately get that last-minute winner. But it was 0-0 when the referee finally whistled.
Thomas Dooley’s Azkals next play Azerbaijan in Dubai on Wednesday.