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Late strike forces Malaysia to draw with PHL Azkals

February 29, 2012 10:19pm
Malaysia's Mohd Asraruddin Putra Omar (left) looks on as teammate S. Kunanlan (16) tries to keep ball possession against the Philippines' Carlos De Murga (second left) and James Younghusband in their friendly match at Rizal Memorial Stadium. Photo by Danny Pata
The Azkals dominated the first half and led 1-0 at the break thanks to a Denis Wolf header, but failed to prevent a 91st-minute equalizer, resulting in a tied game in their friendly with Malaysia, Wednesday night at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

Wolf scored on a Jason Sabio long throw, but pressure from the Malaysians led to Ahmar Shakir Mohd Ali scoring late, ruining a good performance from the Azkals. However, the tie was still an achievement, given the 4-0 routing the Malaysians inflicted in the last time these two squads played.

First half

Malaysia started the half brightest, playing patiently from the back and building up. The Azkals were restricted to counter attacks but soon the roles switched as the scrappy pitch made the short, passing game untenable. Pumping the ball into the box from crosses and long throws, the Guirado brothers—Angel and Juan Luis—looked particularly threatening with their height but generally failed to test the Malaysian keeper in the first half.

Malaysia came closest to scoring first when Kunanlan Subramaniam saw Etheridge off his line and made an audacious attempt from the left wing. He beat the Fulham goalkeeper but the ball just landed on the top of the net, inches away from opening up the scoring.

It was the Azklas who broke the deadlock first though, as another dangerous long throw from Sabio found Wolf laxly marked and he took full advantage to get his head to the ball and beat Shakir Ali in goal.

The Philippines were supported as passionately as ever by the Kaholeros and were buoyed on by the home crowd of around 8,000. As usual the Kaholeros were in fine chanting form and not many countries can boast of such unwavering support during home and away games.

A game of two halves

The Azkals won the first half playing very English football, a physical game crossing the ball into the box at every opportunity searching for the tall players to head in. A Stoke City style of football, very physical and direct play particularly with long throws, perhaps reflected the deteriorating quality of the pitch but Malaysia came out in the second half spurred on by what was probably a strong halftime team talk.

Working several shots early, most ballooned over, but Wan Zack Haikal took the ball down the right and turned Ray Jonsson, playing in dangerman Safee Sali, but his shot was magnificently blocked by Sabio.

Sabio was one of those players singled out for praise by coach Michael Weiss in the press conference as the German mentor noted his improvement over the past few months. Sabio then made a second block moments later from Kunanlan as the winger got free 12 yards out.

Weiss then made a change, replacing Carli De Murga with veteran Roel Gener, but it was Jason De Jong who made the next impact on the game with a high lunge. Any stronger, and it would have been a red but fortunately for him there was no serious damage to the player and he escaped with a yellow for a challenge many have dubbed as a "Hi, I'm Jason De Jong" kind of tackle.

The Azkals fashioned the next chance as Etheridge's long ball found James Younghusband on the right wing. He brought the ball down well and chipped in a great pass to Angel Guirado in the center. Also controlling well, Guirado clipped the ball over his man and headed the ball in the air several times before trapping it and curling towards the top corner. The ball bounced off the post and was eventually cleared for a corner.

Unlucky with the first attempt, Guirado latched onto Sabio's long throw and attempted an overhead kick. It was just too close to the keeper, but it showed his growing confidence and skill. He left the pitch shortly after though, replaced by Misagh Bahadoran, and the Filipino-Spanish winger was wincing again as he left the field.

Marwin Angeles took to the field in place of the booked Jason De Jong for the last fifteen minutes with Malaysia still pressing for the equalizer. They almost got it in the 80th minute when Safee Sali found space on the edge of the area and curled towards the top corner. It looked like it was destined for the top corner but for a top quality save from Neil Etheridge.

The Fulham backup goalkeeper couldn't keep out the equalizer though, as the otherwise solid Sabio was turned by Ali, who slotted in with his left foot to even the score with only injury time left.

Challenge Cup preparation

Malaysia, ranked six places above the Azkals in the FIFA world rankings, is the closest rival to the Philippines in Southeast Asia. Malaysia is ranked just ahead of India and is at the same level as Tajikistan, so the performance particularly shows the progress the Azkals have made.

After the game Weiss seemed satisfied with the result and performance, saying, "Overall I think we can all be pleased against a solid and strong team. We were a little bit unlucky in the end but it was a fair result…I'm very proud of the team."

Next week, the Philippine team will travel to Nepal on the back of this impressive performance to compete in the Challenge Cup. — JVP/AMD/KG, GMA News

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