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Tough road awaits Azkals

BOCAUE, Bulacan – The road to a fourth straight semifinal appearance in the AFF Suzuki Cup became even tougher for the Philippine Azkals after battling Indonesia to a 2-2 draw Tuesday at the Philippine Sports Stadium here.

The Azkals had to battle back twice to salvage the tie, capping off with Phil Younghusband’s free kick in the 82nd minute, but failed to get the much-needed three points that would have given them an inside track at making the semis yet again.

“It’s a disappointing result, but we’re still in it and we have a chance to qualify,” said Younghusband. “We showed good character coming back twice, but we shouldn’t be in those positions in the first place.”

Despite climbing into second place in Group A with two points following a second straight draw, the tournament co-hosts face a difficult obstacle tomorrow night as they battle defending champion Thailand at the same venue.

Thailand, already assured of a semis berth and the top spot in the group following victories over Indonesia and Singapore, has never lost to the Philippines, and its coach Kiatisuk Senamuang hinted that they are eager to get another three points despite the possibility of resting his key players.

A stunning victory would enable the Azkals to clinch the semis, an impossible task to say the least. But a draw coupled with the same result in the Indonesia-Singapore clash that will be played simultaneously at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, will allow the Filipinos to progress.

“They don’t want to lose for the first time against us. We don’t expect them at all to pull back and get some players some chance to play cause they’re already on to the next round,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley.

The Azkals’ defense struggled against Indonesia, first conceding an opening goal when Fachrudin Aryanto headed the opener seven minutes after the opening whistle.

Misagh Bahadoran cancelled that goal when he netted a left-footed shot off Stephan Schrock’s free kick in the 31st.

However, Indonesia’s Boas Salossa rebounded a missed attempt in the 69th to put Indonesia back in front.

That set the stage for Younghusband to deliver his 43rd international goal, his first in two years, with a free kick that sailed past a wall of defenders.

While everyone was happy with Younghusband’s heroics, the victory eluded the Azkals for the second straight game, thus their precarious situation.

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