Football: Asian Cup fate no longer in Azkals' hands after loss to Palestine

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 14 2022 02:40 PM | Updated as of Jun 14 2022 03:36 PM

(UPDATED) The Philippine Azkals' chances of qualifying to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup suffered a major blow after they were outclassed by Palestine in their final group round game, Tuesday afternoon at the MFF Football Centre in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Palestine, ranked 100th in the world, clobbered the Philippines, 4-0, to complete a sweep of their games in Group B.

As group winners, Palestine has secured a spot in next year's continental tournament.

The Azkals, meanwhile, finished the group stages with one win, one draw, and one loss for four points. They still have a slim chance of qualifying to the Asian Cup as one of the five best second-ranked teams.

Their hopes, however, are now reliant on the results of other matches in the qualifiers. As it stands, they are currently second in Group B but that can change depending on the result of the match between Yemen and Mongolia at 5 p.m.

"Even if Mongolia wins, it doesn't mean that we are going. So we have to wait for what happens tonight and tomorrow with the other games," noted Philippines coach Thomas Dooley. "It's not in our hands. We had it in our hands to win this game, we didn't, because we played against a great team in Palestine, and that's how the reality is."

The Azkals started the game brightly but were soon on the back foot against an aggressive Palestine squad. Neil Etheridge was repeatedly called to action, and the Philippines' resistance was broken in the 31st minute when Palestine's Saleh Chihadeh headed in a cross off Musab Battat.

Palestine made it 2-0 in the 42nd after Mahmoud Abuwarda dispossessed Dylan de Bruycker and found Tamer Seyam for another header that bulleted past Etheridge.

"Our defense is doing a great job in this tournament. But if there's one moment where one of those forwards is alone, he's gonna score," Dooley said.

Mohammed Yamin made it 3-0 just 10 minutes after the restart, and Abuwarda put the finishing touches on the victory in the 72nd.

The Azkals had their chances, notably in the 65th minute when Gerrit Holtmann found Simone Rota open at the back post. Rota's header, unfortunately, went wide. In the 81st, Palestine 'keeper Rami Hamada denied a long-range attempt by Mark Hartmann; it was the Philippines' last meaningful kick of the match.

The Philippines had a slight edge in possession, 57% to 43%, but managed just seven attempts, four on target. In contrast, Palestine repeatedly tested the Azkals' defense and had 19 shots, 12 of which were on target. They also had 13 corner kicks.