MANILA (UPDATED) – The Philippine Azkals settled for a goalless draw against Afghanistan in their opening match in the 2014 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup in the Maldives early Wednesday morning.
The two teams dished out end-to-end action at the Hithadhoo Stadium in Addu City after the kickoff was delayed for an hour because of bad weather.
The Azkals started a bit slow early in the first half and struggled to keep up with the high-pressing Afghans, who controlled possession.
The Filipinos picked up steam midway in the half when the Azkals midfielders made adjustments by challenging the Afghans higher up the pitch.
This enabled the Azkals to gain more scoring chances, with Stephan Schrock trying a 40-yards lob in the 30th minute and Patrick Reichelt's attacking off Simone Rota's pass in the 38th.
The Philippine side had a scare in the 35th when Afghanistan crowded the box and got close to the goal. Fortunately, Neil Etheridge was quick to quell the attack and collected the ball.
The Azkals nearly drew first blood near the end of the half but the crossbar denied Younghusband's header. Jason De Jong followed up with another header, but his shot was weak.
In the 70th, the Afghans got dangerously close to the goal again but Jerry Lucena saved the day for the Filipinos.
It was the Azkals' turn to pressure the Afghans in the 76th when they made at least 3 attempts in a single minute.
After the Afghans half-cleared Schrock’s cross near the box, Daisuke Sato recovered the ball and attempted a long shot, but it was cleared again.
Ruben Doctora then sent a cross to Schrock. The midfielder, however, missed the ball by a hair and failed to produce a header.
After Afghanistan got its chance denied by the crossbar in stoppage time, Martin Steuble fired a shot just outside the box in his final attempt for the Philippines.
However, his shot was cleared by the Afghan keeper, who had a man-of-the-match performance.
Schrock said they were able to put up a good fight against the Afghans after making adjustments 15 minutes into the match.
He said they could have scored a couple of goals, but the breaks of the game didn't go their way.
"Yeah, I should have score maybe twice so , maybe next game I will score," said Schrock. "We know we have to win in the following matches so we will be prepared on the second game."
The Azkals had 12 attempts at goal, with 7 on target. They also won 6 corners.
The Afghans, on the other hand, had 7 attempts at goal with only 3 on target. They had only 2 corners.
The Azkals were missing Phil Younghusband and team captain Rob Gier, who were suspended for the match.
According to the Azkals website, Gier was handed a suspension after incurring a yellow card during their 1-0 win over Turkmenistan on March 26, 2013 and another against Cambodia almost a year later.
Phil, on the other hand, got 2 yellow cards in their game against Turkmenistan during the qualifiers.
The Azkals will next battle Laos in Group B action on Thursday.
The match will be aired on ABS-CBN Sports+ Action starting 6:30 p.m.