In a highly physical contest, the Philippine Azkals and Thailand’s War Elephants settled for a scoreless draw in the first match of their two-game semifinals in the 2014 Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila on Saturday night.
The visitors almost drew first blood hardly a minute into the 90-minute clash on artificial pitch when a lapse from Azkals goalkeeper Patrick Deyto gave a free kick near goal to the visitors.
Deyto foiled the shot, to the visible relief of the large crowd that trooped to the venerable venue despite Typhoon Ruby knocking on the Philippines’ door and in spite of the rather pricey tickets even for most football fanatics.
The Azkals played average in the first half, with the War Elephants having more ball possessions but, like the hosts, suffered from poor finishing in front of goal.
Seemingly roughing the Azkals up, the Thais paid the price when one of their reputed stars was handed down a red card in the 69th minute.
Forward Adisak Kraisorn had seemed to have given young Azkals defender Amani Aguinaldo an elbow to the face after a tight scramble in the center circle.
The penalty meant that Kraisorn would not be figuring in the second semifinal encounter in Bangkok on December 10 in a tussle that could favor football-mad Thailand psychologically, being the host this time and carrying a 14-game winning streak against the Philippines since 1971.
The Filipinos, however, failed to exploit their one-man advantage in the last 21 minutes, setting the stage for Wednesday’s showdown at Rajamangala Stadium in the Thai capital.
A win for either team will send it to the finals later this month against either Malaysia or Vietnam for the 2014 Suzuki Cup, which Thailand has won four times.
The Philippines is yet to take the Suzuki Cup, symbol of football supremacy in Southeast Asia, its best performances being semifinalists in the 2010 and 2012 editions.
In the second half, the Azkals outgunned the Thais, keeping the visitor’s net minder, Kawin Thamsatchanan, very busy.
The Thai goalie, however, easily blocked a shot from the edge of the box attempted by Phil Younghusband, who was on the pitch throughout the match, after Kraisorn was ejected.
Shortly after the start of the second half, War Elephant Perapat Notechaiya fired from a tight spot, narrowly missing the Philippine goal.
The Philippines’ turn to be disappointed came later when Younghusband failed to convert a clear shot on goal after losing his balance as a result of a challenge from Suttinun Phukhom.
The visitors nearly broke the crowd’s heart in the 55th minute when Charyl Chappuis burst into the host’s box but only for his goal to go wide and past Deyto.
Earlier, organizers said the game could be scrapped, depending on when and where the typhoon was to make landfall.
The weather cooperated and the exciting match concluded with hardly a drop of rain falling on the pitch, although the scoreline may not have been exactly what enthusiastic Azkals fans had in mind.