The Philippines and Palestine fight for a place in next year’s Asian Cup in Australia after both nations advanced to the final of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup in Maldives on Tuesday.
Palestine upset Afghanistan 2-0 and the Philippines, represented by the Azkals, ousted host Maldives 3-2 in extra time in the semifinals played at the National Stadium in the capital Male.
The final will be on Friday at the same venue. Only the champion earns the ticket to the Asian Cup.
Palestine, ranked 165 in the world, stunned Afghanistan, ranked 128, as Ashraf Al Fawaghra scored two goals on either side of halftime.
Afghanistan failed to impress despite the return of three key players who were injured when their team bus was involved in an accident last Saturday.
With its historic win over Maldives, the Philippines has surpassed its previous semifinal finish in the Challenge Cup.
Veteran Chris Greatwich, who provided key goals for the Azkals in the past, delivered the game-winning shot in the extra time to break a 2-2 standoff.
“I’m really thankful to Daddy God for this victory,” Azkals team manager Dan Palami posted in his social networking site after the game.
Phil Younghusband scored the first goal at the 19th minute before Mohamed Umair of Maldives evaded the defense of goalkeeper Roland Mueller to equalize the match at 1-all.
The Azkals immediately came back with a point-blank goal from Jerry Lucena to provide the Filipinos a 2-1 edge at the half.
Maldives’ Assadhulla Abdulla drilled in a goal that knotted the score at 2-all. The hosts had several chances to score but were thwarted everytime by the Azkals’ tenacious defense.
Mueller saved three potential go-ahead goals by Maldives in the second half—including a penalty kick off a foul committed by the 19-year-old Amani Aguinaldo in the 55th minute—before Greatwich delivered the decisive goal in extra time.
The Filipino-German also saved a penalty kick in the Philippine Azkals’ 2-0 win over Turkmenistan in the group stage early this week.
A victory by the Philippines against Palestine catapults it to the Asian Cup next year, the region’s premier tournament that is dominated by football powerhouses like Japan and South Korea.