By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
THE Philippine national men’s football team maintained the status quo in their grouping in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers with it on top after forcing another draw with Yemen in their group play late Tuesday night in Doha, Qatar.
Fought to a stalemate in their previous match last month in Bacolod City, the top two teams in Group F of the final round of the qualifiers finished knotted anew, 1-1, in their reengagement at the Saoud Bin Abdulrahman Stadium.
Mike Ott provided the late equalizer for the Azkals, who improved to 2-2-0 with eight points, to stay ahead in the standings after four matches and with two games remaining in their schedule.
Host team Yemen was first to the scoreboard after forward Tawfik Ali scored from close range in the 63rd minute to break a goalless tie early in the contest which saw it coming in with more aggressiveness and spirit than the previous game and testing the Philippines’ defense.
The Azkals grappled to make up for lost ground thereafter amid a still tough stand from Yemen, which was looking to dislodge the Philippines from the top spot in the group with a win.
Mr. Ott, whose brother Manny was out because of injury, came to the rescue of the Azkals as he found the bottom of the net in the wind-up.
Receiving a pass from teammate Paul Mulders, Mr. Ott coolly punched the ball past Yemeni goalkeeper Mohammed Ayash in the 89th minute to stun the home team and its crowd who were looking to celebrate their second win in their group.
Yemen tried to salvage the win in the seven minutes added time but to no avail as it settled for the draw.
While they were shooting for the full three points that go with a win to fortify their position at the top, Azkals coach Thomas Dooley still did not downplay the significance of the draw as it resulted to keeping their spot.
“It’s better than losing three points which would have meant us sliding down,” Mr. Dooley said in the post-match press conference.
For game hero Ott, who plays for Angthong United in the Thai League, they took pride in the win considering how they were made to work by the Yemeni side.
“When you’re trailing it’s not a good feeling. Good thing coach made the adjustments that got us good chances and in the end we were able to score a goal,” he said.
The draw dropped Yemen (1-3-0) to a share of second place with six points with Tajikistan (2-0-2), which defeated Nepal, 3-0, in their own Group F match last Tuesday in Hisor.
In the final round of the qualifiers, format calls for the top two teams in each of the six groups advancing to the main tournament of the AFC Asian Cup in 2019, joining 12 other teams that have already qualified earlier.
Next up for the Azkals is a match with already-ousted Nepal on Nov. 14 in Kathmandu.