by Jonas Terrado
Game Tuesday (Rizal Memorial Stadium)
7:30 p.m. – Philippines vs Tajikistan
The Philippine Azkals held off Fiji’s late scare and secured a 3-2 victory Thursday night at Rizal Memorial Stadium in an international friendly match that served as a warm-up for next week’s crucial Asian Cup qualifiers match against Tajikistan.
Goals by Phil Younghusband, Pika Minegishi and Kevin Ingreso appeared to have put the game in doubt until defensive blunders by the substitutes inserted by coach Thomas Dooley, allowing the visitors to make the game interesting on scores from Ame Votoniu and Roy Krishna.
But the Azkals defense was able to prevent Fiji from putting in the equalizer for a much-needed win before setting its sight on a draw or a victory against Tajikistan at the same venue to clinch a historic berth in next year’s Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Younghusband scored his 49th international goal from the spot in the 29th minute after Misagh Bahadoran was knocked down inside the box by a Fiji defender.
The Azkals doubled the lead in the 52nd when Minegishi scored a low shot that bounced off the gloves of Fiji keeper Epeli Loaniceva before Ingreso delighted most of the 1,400 fans that attended the match with a volley from just outside the box eight minutes later for 3-0.
However, the Azkals began to falter defensively in the 73rd as they failed to they allowed Fiji to make counterattack, resulting to Votoniu’s empty-netter.
Azkals keeper Nick O’Donnell, who replaced debuting Michael Falkesgaard at the start of the second half, went for the ball but hit a leaping Krishna from the box.
Krishna calmly converted the penalty off O’Donnell in the 79th to narrow the gap, which turned out to be the final goal of the contest.
The Azkals will be back in action against Tajikistan on Mar. 27, Tuesday at Rizal Memorial Stadium. (with a report from Rafael Bandayrel)