With draw, PHL eleven clinches semis spot in Suzuki Cup

The Underdogs might be a more appropriate canine-related nickname for the Philippines’ overachieving football team.

The Filipinos played Myanmar to a scoreless draw in Nam Dinh City, Vietnam
on Wednesday to book their first-ever ticket to the semifinals of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.

Known more as Southeast Asia’s top basketball country, the Philippines has been considered as a doormat in the region’s football circle.

This was so until the last few days, when it produced one of the most stunning runs in the Suzuki Cup’s short history.

A 1-1 draw with former three-time winner Singapore and a 2-0 shocker over defending champion Vietnam now have a lot of reawakened Filipino supporters dreaming big.

Even though the scoreless draw with less-fancied Myanmar was acceptable at best, the bigger picture certainly isn’t lost for a Philippine team that had turned almost overnight from the perennial whipping boy to a surprising darkhorse.

Defense has been the key for coach Simon McMenemy’s side, which has given up a tournament-low one goal in three group stage matches.

Against Myanmar, that formula was again in full display, as the Philippines had its opponent rushing shots against its aggressive but disciplined backline.

Myanmar rarely had a clear shot on goal during the match. The only time it did was midway through the second half when a glancing header by one of Myanmar’s strikers ended up being saved by Philippines keeper Neil Etheridge.

Myanmar controlled possession early, but as the match progressed the Filipinos started to assert itself on the attack.

The Philippines nearly broke the deadlock two minutes before halftime, but Phil Younghusband failed to convert a cross when his header bounced off the right-side post.

There were more scoring chances for the Filipinos in the second half, mostly on excellently executed set pieces, but each one ended up hitting iron. Ian Araneta had one shot clanging against the crossbar, while another hit the post.

The Philippines, whose moniker Azkals is a Filipino slang term for “street dogs,” placed second in Group B behind defending champion Vietnam, which secured top spot with a 1-0 victory over Singapore also on Wednesday.

That means the Philippines will take on Group A leader Indonesia in the home-and-away semifinals, while Vietnam squares off against Group A runner-up Malaysia in the other final-four matchup.

But the Philippines will not be able to host a semifinal match at home, since there is no available pitch in the country that meets the AFF Suzuki Cup standards. The AFF made the decision after careful consideration and talks with the relevant parties.

According to an AFF statement, “a set of guidelines has to be met before a stadium can stage an AFF Suzuki Cup match and none of the proposed venues in the Philippines reached the required standard stipulated in the Hosting Obligations for the tournament.”

The AFF said the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) agreed that they will be allowed to choose to play one leg of their semifinal match against Indonesia at a neutral venue or both legs in the country of their opposition.

The Philippines is scheduled to host Indonesia in the first leg semifinal tie on December 16, before traveling to Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta for the away leg on December 19.

PFF president Nonong Araneta is also hoping to talk to AFF officials and request that the schedule of the semifinal matches be changed. Araneta plans to seek AFF’s permission to have the opening semis match on December 19 instead of December 16.

The Malaysia-Vietnam semifinal will open in Kuala Lumpur on December 15, then conclude in Hanoi on December 18.

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