MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) -- The Philippine national football team advanced to the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup semi-final for the first time by holding Myanmar to a goalless draw in Vietnam on Wednesday.
Myanmar dominated offensively in the first half, but the Azkals' defense stayed solid throughout the match held at the Hien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh.
Philippine coach Simon McMenemy's squad, however, was dangerous after the half-time break, with at least 3 scoring attempts that rattled the posts and the crossbar.
The Myanmar goalkeeper was also kept busy by long-range strikes.
The Myanmar players were aggressive in the first half, but gradually lost steam.
The Philippines' goalkeeper Neil Etheridge was a dominating presence in the 18-yard box.
The Azkals will face Indonesia in the Final 4. The other semifinal duel will be between Suzuki Cup defending champion Vietnam and Malaysia.
ABS-CBN Sports will air the games live on Studio 23.
No match in Philippines
Jose Mari Martinez, former Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president, expects the Azkals to return to the Philippines on Thursday.
“They will continue to the semifinals in the 16th and 17th [of December],” he said.
Martinez said the Philippines could have had the privilege of hosting the semi-final matches, but will not be able to due to lack of facilities that suit international standards.
“The situation [now] is, we have to play in ‘away-and-away’ game. It cannot be held in the Philippines, it's supposed to be a ‘home-and-away game,' simply because we don't have the facilities to take care of world sports. We cannot meet the international standard of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association or International Federation of Association Football),” said Martinez.
The Asean Football Federation (AFF) has allowed the Philippines to pick a neutral ground where they could play at least one leg of their semifinal match.
“A set of guidelines has to be met before a stadium can stage an AFF Suzuki Cup match and none of the proposed venues in the Philippines reached the required standard stipulated in the Hosting Obligations for the tournament,” the AFF said in a statement posted on the games’ website.
The AFF said the Philippines may choose to play one leg of their semi-final at a neutral venue or both legs in the country of their opposition.
“The Asean Football Federation would like to congratulate the Philippines for reaching the last four of the AFF Suzuki Cup for the first time and wish them good luck in the semi-finals,” said the AFF.
Long way to recognition
The Philippines upset defending champion Vietnam last Sunday.
"Nobody ever thought that we could beat Vietnam. We keep on dreaming and we keep on dreaming we can do it," said team manager Dan Palami on ANC's Rundown on Monday night.
Martinez also told ANC on Monday that the Philippine team has come a long way since the 1970's when it first began, and then again since 2004.
Martinez credited the team's strong showing to years of developing the players and the country's support.
"We have built this team to what it is today, and we're on the right track with what were doing in football," he said.
"We're very well prepared for the finals. We looked at this three years ago and we geared ourselves to make sure the Philippines will be able to increase in terms of their positioning in their FIFA ranking, which we started 189 out of 208. Today, we can say we're 151," Martinez said. "With this win [vs Vietnam], we should drop to the level of less than 140, which we were targetting for the end of this year."
"We're very happy with the performance of the national team. Three years of hard work have paid off," Martinez said.
Martinez said prospects look bright for the country's football players.
"We have a Philippine team in England playing in London, and they've got about 10 games, 8 wins and one loss. The second one, which is a surprise, would be that we have a stronger team coming out very soon which is going to represent our country in the Futsal competition. They are now number 4 in Southeast Asia, the coach is from Iran and they're a team to reckon with," he said.
Following the Philippine football team's surprise showing, various politicians have called for greater support and priority to football, where height is not as important, unlike in the Filipino's favorite sport, basketball. -- with a report from Caroline Howard, ANC
Photos and video courtesy of Studio 23