MANILA, Philippines - “New look” Philippine Azkals held a full-strength Malaysia to a goal-less draw Saturday night, pulling through with a promising first game under coach Thomas Dooley at Selayang Municipal Stadium in Selangor, Malaysia.
Parading four new players in the starting lineup led by goalkeeper Patrick Deyto, the Azkals gamely fought the in-form Malaysians and held their own, showing improved passing and movement off the ball, forcing their rivals into a standoff, an acceptable result considering the short time the Phl has had with their new mentor.
“I think we started very well and for us it was a perfect test because we wanted to play a team that can challenge us so we could see what we needed to work on,” said Dooley, on whose shoulders rest the country’s bid for the crown in the coming Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup.
The German-born American coach gave Deyto, Ruben Doctora, Simone Rota, and Fil-Swiss Martin Steuble their first starts and sub Kenshiro Daniels his first cap.
Deyto, assuming responsibility in the absence of fancied Neil Etheridge, Roland Muller and Ed Sacapano, earned plaudits for his performance, dishing out a pair of world-class saves in the second half to highlight his stint.
Overall, the Azkals played with drive and organized attacks, pressing high and winning and keeping the ball for long stretches – a big improvement from their previous matches against the Malayan Tigers.
“I saw some great things and saw some things that we needed to work on, which we could not do because we did not have a lot of time,” said Dooley, who only started training the Azkals last month.
It was the third straight draw for Phl and Malaysia, who battled to a pair of ties (1-1 and 0-0) in 2012.
“As usual, it was a tough game against Malaysia, which came in with a really strong team,” Azkals manager Dan Palami said of their opponents, who are gearing up for their AFC Asian Cup qualification Group D match against Yemen this week.
“What’s more important is with even just four sessions together, I could see that a system of play is developing. I think we will certainly get better as the team gets more time together. I’m also glad that the coach used this opportunity to test our young players,” he added.
The Malaysians kept Deyto and the Phl defenders busy, launching eight shots, five of which were on target. Amirizwam Taj actually headed it home in the first half but the goal was nullified due to a foul preceding his shot. Safee Sali’s succeeding diving header and Amri Yahyah’s poke just bounced off the post, giving the Azkals a reprieve.
The home side threatened twice more in the second half but the 24-year-old Deyto skillfully stopped the attempts of Bobby Gonzales and Baddrol Bakhtiar.
Phil Younghusband got a couple of scoring chances, including in the 61st when he was set up by Jeffrey Christiaens but his low shot was saved by the Malaysian keeper.
Misagh Bahadoran also had his scoring chance but was blocked at the final moment in the 31st minute before the game was stopped as smoke from flares and fireworks lit up by fans filled part of the stadium.
The Pinoy booters nearly got a penalty late in the game when sub Jason de Jong was clipped but the referee let it go.
The Azkals hope to build on this promising start when they head to Dubai for another match on Wednesday, this time against Azerbaijan. The big guns from Europe, led by Stephan Schrock, and Fil-Spanish striker Javier Patino will reinforce the Azkals against the world No. 93 Azerbaijan.