PYONGYANG – The Philippine national men’s football team displayed its grit against a very faored North Korean side, holding the hosts to a scoreless draw in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers Thursday at Kim Il-sung Stadium here.
The Azkals were able to survive a flurry of attacks from North Korea which had many chances in the dying minutes to score the winning goal.
But Azkals goalkeeper Neil Etheridge stood his ground between the sticks, as the Azkals weathered North Korea’s storm as well as its 50,000-strong fans which loudly cheered for the home team.
The Azkals fought hard right from the opening whistle, engaging the North Koreans in a tight battle as the hosts struggled to get their form.
The hosts resorted to throwing long balls, using their height advantage at the expense of the smaller Azkals. But the Filipino backline kept its poise and defended very well as it was able to stifle the North Korea attacks.
Before halftime, the Azkals had a great chance as Stephan Schrock threw a nice pass to the streaking Daisuke Sato who misfired.
It was in the second half when North Korea fled its muscles as it finally asserted its might. Backed by a boisterous and synchronized hometown crowd that sings in chorus, the hosts created several oppoerunities at the goal.
In the last 10 minutes of the game, North Korea pounced on the Azkals defense as it tried to finally score a game-winning goal But Etheridge saved the day for the Azkals, deflecting two straight shots at the 80th minute.
An additional eight minutes were added to the match, prolonging the Azkals’ attempt to just hang on. Fortunately, Etheridge was there to block another two great attempts by North Korea.
It was a good result for the Azkals who earned a point in this draw after getting humiliated in their last game against Uzbekistan. It was also the first blemish on the record of North Korea that had earlier won its first three matches.
The Azkals, the first Philippine sports team to ever set foot in this reclusive state, were also the first team to prevent North Korea from winning in its own home soil during the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.