(Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore)
8 p.m. - Singapore vs. Philippines
The country’s first-ever staging of the AFF Suzuki Cup saw the Philippine Azkals dodging several bullets to settle for a scoreless draw with Singapore last night in the first leg of their semifinal duel at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
A huge crowd watched the Azkals endure close calls throughout the 90-minute affair as the visiting Lions pressed on making at least one goal and a headstart in their two-leg semis affair.
Instead, the Azkals’ backline along with goalkeeper Ed Sacapano continued their superb showing from the group stage in Bangkok by denying the Singapore strikers led by Shahril Ishak and Aleksandar Duric of finding the back of the net.
The Philippine offense became more sharper in the second half led by Patrick Reichelt in the left flank but likewise failed to come away with a goal that would have delighted the partisan fans.
With both sides coming away empty handed, the stage is set for an expected thriller in the second leg on Wednesday at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore, with the winner claiming a spot in the finals against either Thailand or defending champion Malaysia.
The Azkals failed to score a single goal at home for the first time since a scoreless tie against Tajikistan in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup qualifier held in Iloilo City.
Coach Michael Weiss saw “two different halves” from the Azkals, who played too defensive in the first 45 minutes before coming away with solid attacks in the second half.
“In the first half, the team was somehow scary, sitting too deep and inviting Singapore with some good chances,” said Weiss. “We played much better in the second half but still not the potential of what we wanted to be.”
Weiss also paid tribute to substitute Marwin Angeles, who created an impact after replacing Jason de Jong for the second half by coming away with a solid effort on both sides of the pitch.
The best chance for Singapore came in the first half when Duric found Shahril in the right side of the six-yard box for what would have been a goal in the 25th minute but the linesman ruled it as an offside.
In stoppage time, Muhammad Safuwan hit a header straight to the hands of Sacapano, who lost his grip of the ball but was able to make a clearance.
“I think it’s a good game,” said Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic. “I’m happy with the scoreless draw but nothing has changed.”