The Philippines men's national football team lost 2-0 to China on Tuesday (Manila time) at the resumption of the joint qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
The Azkals saw their fixtures originally set in Suzhou, China but changed in the last minute to Sharjah Stadium in the United Arab Emirates.
The neutral environment appeared to serve the Philippines well as it stood toe to toe with the Chinese.
But that gallant stand cracked in the 56th minute after keeper Bernd Schipmann was assessed a penalty trying to stop Spanish Segunda División left winger Wu Lei on the attack but brought him down instead.
Wu converted the spot kick to give China breathing room.
Feeling more at ease ahead, China doubled its lead in the 65th, thanks to winger Wu Xinghan.
The last time the 2 clubs met the Philippines impressed with a goalless draw.
The Azkals, who entered the match coming off an 18-month layoff, continued to sit at 3rd place in Group A with 7 points (2-1-3, win-loss draw).
Syria (21 points, undefeated in 7 matches) and China (13 points, 4-1-1) are first and second in their group.
The Philippines play Guam next on June 11, and the Maldives on June 15.
Coach Scott Cooper said the team will be competitive despite the less than ideal preparations, given the pandemic and players backing off for various reasons.
"It is what it is. I'm sure all of the countries are dealing with somewhat similar things as well, but we're gonna be positive," he said in a recent interview on "Power and Play."
FROM THE ARCHIVES: