Philippines 0 Singapore 0
Singapore had the upper hand against a tentative Philippine side on Saturday night but could only muster a scoreless draw in the opening leg of their AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
The Lions rattled the usually sturdy defence of the Azkals early on but lacked the finishing touch to fashion a victory and will head back to Singapore rueing the missed opportunities that could have given them a decisive edge in the return leg on Wednesday at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Playing a huge role in the stalemate was veteran Filipino goalkeeper Eduard Sacapano, who was able to maintain his poise in the face of the relentless pressure of the visitors, keeping his third straight clean sheet stretching back to the group stage in Bangkok.
Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic said at the post-match press conference that he was satisfied with the draw “and generally it was a good game played by two strong squads.”
“We had our chances in the first half and we were more creative but this happens. We are still in a good position. If we win in Singapore then we are in the finals,” he said.
Philippines coach Michael Weiss conceded that his charges did not play to their potential.
“I think we saw two different halves today. In the first half we were sitting too deep and played into the hands of Singapore,” he said.
“This led them to easily build up and distribute long balls, creating difficult situations for us in the back line.”
Weiss said his substitution of midfielder Jason de Jong – “who missed a lot of loose balls” - with Marwin Angeles at the start of the second half changed the complexion of the match somewhat but still left him dissatisfied.
“If the midfield doesn’t show up and distribute balls very well, you end up with loose balls and you end up playing defensively with no time to create chances,” he noted.
Weiss also said that the Azkals might have succumbed to the pressure of playing their first AFF Suzuki Cup match in front of the hometown crowd.
“When three or four players play below their usual level then that might be the reason,” he said.
Despite the home draw, the German coach said that all was not lost for the Philippines “because if we win or draw with goals (against Singapore) then we are in the finals.”
The first chance of the game fell to Singapore in the third minute, Shahdan Sulaiman ballooning the ball over the bar from 10 yards.
Singapore continued to press forward and Khairul Amri had a shot blocked though the better option looked like a through ball to Aleksandar Duric in space.
Amri latched onto a long ball in the 20th minute but his half-hit shot was pushed away for a corner by ‘keeper Sacapano.
In a rare attack, Angel Guirado, who had been the most menacing of the Philippine forwards, found Phil Younghusband with a chipped pass in the 24th minute only for the striker’s weak shot to be easily saved by Izwan Mahbud.
Singapore should have taken the lead in the 25th minute. Duric’s shot-cum-cross was met by Shahril Ishak at the back post but the tournament’s top scorer hit into the side netting with the goal gaping.
The Lions started the second half brightly and a free kick from Amri in the 47th minute whizzed narrowly over the bar.
Shahril, who was looking lively, stood up a ball at the back post for Duric and the veteran headed wide under pressure from centre back Rob Gier.
Philippines worked their way into the game and gave Singapore a scare in the 73rd minute, a well-struck free-kick from Paul Mulders going past the upright with Izwan static on his line.
Philippines subsitute Emelio Caligdong, who scored the winner against Vietnam in Group A action, found himself on the end of a neat build up in the 84th minute but his first touch let him down and the chance was gone.
In injury time, Duric bustled his way through the defence and found the overlapping Shaiful Esah with a lovely ball but the defender’s goal-bound effort was deflected for a corner.