MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – The Philippine Azkals marched to the semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup by beating Turkmenistan, 2-0, at the Galolhu National Stadium in Maldives on Saturday.
Phil Younghusband and Patrick Reichelt scored one goal each for the Philippine side to put the Azkals on top of Group B with 7 points.
This means the Azkals will meet Maldives in the semifinals after the host team finished second in Group A.
It was a tough game for the Filipinos, who had to contend with an urgent Turkmenistan squad which appeared desperate to make their third appearance in the Challenge Cup semis.
The Turkmens tried to rattle the Azkals with quick movement early in the first half while constantly challenging the Philippines’ backline.
“It was do or die and a challenge with their physical presence. We tried to play compact and use our quick players up front,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley in the Challenge Cup’s official website.
The Azkals, however, withstood the Turkmens’ persistence as Roland Mueller foiled several attempts on the goal.
The Philippines also had a scary episode in the 43rd when Turkmenistan was granted a penalty kick near the box. Fortunately, Mueller guessed Aleksandr Boliyan’s movement right and made a spectacular save to maintain a clean sheet for the Azkals.
“Our keeper kept us alive. Today we have to recognize him and not just Phil and Patrick’s great goals. I know what the team can do. Our focus is on winning the Challenge Cup,” said Dooley.
The Philippines nearly posted a 1-0 lead in the 19th when Stephan Schrock evaded his defenders and crossed the ball to Ruben Doctora, who was positioned near the post. Doctora got close to scoring the goal, but his header went wide.
The Filipinos eventually gained a 1-0 advantage over the Turkmens in the 49th when Younghusband sent the ball the back of the net after being granted a free kick. That goal, which was Younghusband’s first in in the group stage, sent the Pinoy spectators at the Galolhu National Stadium on their feet.
Twenty-eight minutes later, it was Reichelt’s turn to electrify the Filipino crowd by producing another goal for the Azkals. The Filipino-German caught a long pass and fired the shot to the net, while in midair.
“I would like to congratulate the Philippines,” said Turkmenistan coach Rahim Kurbanmamedov after the match.
He lamented that his team could have scored at least a goal if not for Boliyan’s mistake.
“If we had scored the penalty we could have changed our strategy. Therefore, in the second half we had to play attacking football,” said Kurbanmamedov.
“In the first half my players did everything we told them to, but in the second half they made many mistakes… This is not a lucky tournament for us.”
Philippines finished the group stage with 7 points on +4 goal difference, while Afghanistan followed at second with 5 points (+2 GD). Turkmenistan missed the trip to the semis with 3 points (0 GD), while Laos ended at the bottom of the standings with 1 point (-6 GD).
The Azkals will play against Maldives on Tuesday. It will be aired on ABS-CBN Sports+Action starting 11:30 p.m.
Whoever tops the Challege Cup will gain the final ticket to the Asian Cup which will take place in 2015 in Australia.