By EDRI K. AZNAR/SunStar
Photo: Tough one. After a tough loss to China, the Philippine men’s football team regrouped and won over Tajikistan
DESPITE missing some key players, the Philippines still remained at the top of Group F in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup qualifiers with a 4-3 win over home team Tajikistan last Tuesday night at the Republican Central Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The Azkals lost some key offensive players in Hikaru Minegishi and Jeffrey Christiaens due to injuries but the team didn’t lack any firepower in taking an early 3-0 lead. Skipper Phil Younghusband scored the opening goal in the 28th minute after curling in a free kick that went past Tajik goalie Abduaziz Mahkamov. Prolific striker Javier Patiño hit back-to-back goals, one in the 41st and the other in the 48th minute, to give the Philippines a comfortable 3-0 lead early in the second half. Tajikistan finally got their offense going after Parvizjon Umarboev converted a penalty kick in the 57th minute against Azkals goalkeeper Patrick Deyto, who filled in the shoes for star goalie Neil Etheridge. Dilshod Vasiev scored the second goal just four minutes later. Defender Daisuke Sato, however, scored the dagger in the 79th minute with a strike outside the box. Manuchehr Dzhalilov answered with a consolation goal in the 90th minute for Tajikistan but it was too late for the hosts. “We congratulate our national team for their second win in the Asian Cup Qualifiers. This was a perfect response after last week’s loss in a friendly with China PR. The win increased our chances for a place in the 2019 Asian Cup,” PFF general-secretary Atty. Ed Gastanes said in an statement. The Philippines takes the solo lead of Group F with six points after the win and a scoreless draw between Yemen and Nepal. Yemen sits at second place with four points. Nepal is third with 1 point and is just ahead of Tajikistan on goal difference. The Azkals will face Yemen next in a home match on Sept. 5 in Bacolod.