Azkals, Lions battle to goalless draw
MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - The Philippine Azkals were denied a home turf victory in the first leg of their AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal tie against the Singapore Lions at the Rizal Memorial Stadium Saturday night.
Singapore was in control in the first half, with attacks from the Lions forcing Azkals goalkeeper Eduard Sacapaño to make several reflex saves.
Sacapaño and skipper Rob Gier kept the Azkals in the match, with the latter holding fort against Singapore's strikers led by veteran forward Aleksandr Duric.
The Philippines' first scoring chance came in the 21st minute, when a pass from midfield found Phil Younghusband inside the box against 2 defenders. However, his shot lacked power and it was saved comfortably by Singapore shotstopper Izwan Mahbud.
The Lions replied at the other end, with Duric's cross beating Sacapaño. The more than 15,000 fans at the stadium heaved a sigh of relief when Shahril Ishak failed to connect on the pass.
The Azkals recovered their composure in the second half with the entry of Marwin Angeles in midfield to replace the struggling Jason de Jong.
Phil Younghusband and Patrick Reichelt combined forces to attack the left flank but failed to find a final ball that could have led to a goal.
Paul Mulders had a golden opportunity to push the Azkals ahead but his freekick went just inches from the goal.
Chieffy Caligdong entered the match in the 77th minute to replace Reichelt and injected more pace into the Philippines's attacks.
The veteran winger went close to punching a hole through Singapore's defense but his first touch failed him inside the box in one of the the Azkals' forays.
The Philippines will next face Singapore in the 2nd leg at the Jalan Besar Stadium on December 12.
Because of the away goals rule, the Azkals can advance to the finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup if they hold the Lions to a scoring draw -- such as a 1-1 or 2-2 scoreline -- in the second leg.
Azkals coach Michael Weiss said the goalless draw in the first leg is a decent result for his wards.
He also praised Sacapaño for his 3rd straight clean sheet.
Weiss described the match as a game of 2 halves with the Philippines having a better performance in the final 45 minutes.
"We were a bit too cautious, intimidated," he said regarding first half.
"We played a good tournament so far. We have to take the next step to reach the final," he added.
Weiss said Danish-Filipino fullback Jerry Lucena will be back in time for 2nd leg of the semifinal tie.
He said the pressure is now on their opponents to be more active on their turf.
Weiss indicated that he will shuffle the lineup in the 2nd leg and bring in players who can counter Singapore's playing style.