The Philippines achieved another famous result in the AFF Suzuki Cup on Saturday night, but the Azkals were left wanting for more even after holding powerhouse Thailand to a scoreless draw in the first leg of their semifinal tie at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Azkals couldn’t cash in on their man advantage in the last 24 minutes, leaving them to rue a golden opportunity to gain a decisive edge heading into the second leg in Bangkok on Wednesday.
The Thais came into the game with a dominant record against the Philippines, which hasn’t won against its regional rivals since 1971.
And while the outcome would have been a foregone conclusion in favor of the Thais a few years, the Azkals once again defied the odds with a workmanlike performance that had the visitors on the backfoot for most of the match.
Phil Younghusband muffed a couple of good chances in the second half, after forcing a stunning save from Thai goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan with a curling free kick on the 41st minute.
The Thais looked lively early on with their slick passing and clever movement and the Azkals had to weather an early assault. But the Azkals slowly got a foothold on the game and dominated possession.
“I think we showed today we can compete with teams like Thailand,” said Younghusband. “It’s a big advantage we did not concede a goal today.”
With the away goals rule enforced, a scoring draw in the second leg will also be enough for the Azkals to advance to the finals for the first time.
A goal would have been a fitting reward for the performance, but the Azkals lacked the sharpness to totally break down the Thais.
Misagh Bahadoran produced another energetic display on the left flank, causing all sorts of problems with his speed and workrate. But the final ball was once again lacking from the midfielder.
The Thais were reduced to 10 men on the 70th minute after Adisak Kraisorn was sent off for an elbow on defender Amani Aguinaldo, who settled into the game after a shaky start. But for 24 minutes, including injury time, the Azkals failed to cash in on this advantage.
A series of lofted balls into the area came to nothing as the Thais survived a late barrage, making it all to play for in the second.
8 p.m. Thailand vs Philippines