Azkals show grit against bigger Azerbaijan before dropping tight 1-nil result

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The Philippine national men’s football team put up a fight against a tough Azerbaijan side, but fell short of a comeback to yield a 1-nil result in an international friendly on Wednesday (Thursday morning Philippine time) at Al-Shabab Stadium in Dubai.

The Azkals, in their second match under new coach Thomas Dooley, surrendered a goal in the first half, but tried to rally in the second half after finding a couple of opportunities amid the physical play from Azerbaijan.

Facing a European side for the first time in 17 years, the 127th-ranked Azkals enjoyed the presence of foreign-based players Stephan Schrock, Javier Patiño, and Jerry Lucena against the 93rd-ranked Azerbaijan.

But the Azkals also missed the services of their top goalkeepers Neil Etheridge and Roland Mueller, leaving young Patrick Deyto the lone man between the sticks for the Philippines.

Against a bigger Azerbaijan side, the Azkals made up for their size disadvantage with precise play on the midfield, creating chances through series of short passes that led to two goal opportunities in the first half.

But it was Azerbaijan that found the back of the net first after a corner kick led to an easy header at the 26th minute.

The Azkals went on the attack in the second half, which led to multiple looks at the goal. Phil Younghusband and Schrock had good attempts at the 54th and 58th minutes, but both failed to convert.

Younghusband also tried to make a shot off a free kick at the 63rd minute, but his attempt went over the bar.

The Azkals were also at the receiving end of the physical play of Azerbaijan, with a couple of players including Younghusband being knocked down on the pitch due to their opponent’s tough challenges.

An Azerbaijan player even earned a yellow card for trying to slap Patrick Reichelt on the back as they both scrambled for the ball.

But the Azkals did not back down, having an answer to their opponents’ hard tackles in a match that featured seven yellow cards.

Schrock had one last chance to force the equalizer after finding himself inside the box. But his pass to a teammate inside the box went too strong, allowing Azerbaijan to come away with the triumph.

The match capped the Azkals’ training tour in March, with the Filipinos battling Malaysia to a scoreless draw in Selayang last Saturday.

The friendlies are part of the Azkals’ preparations for the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup in Maldives in May, where a ticket to the prestigious Asian Cup in 2015 is at stake.

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