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Never-say-die Azkals finish qualifiers with comebacker against NoKor

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By Kevin Estrada

MANILA--The Philippines bucked an early second half deficit to pull off the most incredible comeback in recent memory, downing North Korea 3-2 to end their joint World Cup-Asian Cup round 2 qualifying campaign Tuesday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Javier Patiño, Manny Ott, and substitute Iain Ramsay instigated the fightback in the final seven minutes, with the latter two scoring the vital strikes for Thomas Dooley's men, in addition to Misagh Bahadoran's first half header to finish their Group H campaign with 10 points for third place.

The win gave the recently retired Juani Guirado a fitting sendoff to his stellar Azkals career after 34 matches, skippering the side in the last two.

Kim Chang-Bok's side will rue its missed chances as that painful loss knocked the team out of the World Cup qualifying and relegated the team to the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers by the also-ran hosts.

North Korea finished Round 2 on 16 points, five behind winner Uzbekistan who capped off its own campaign with a 1-0 win over Bahrain in Tashkent, but China, following a 2-0 home win against Qatar, pipped North Korea by a point to snatch the final slot for the four best runners-up.

With the suspension of OJ Porteria and Patrick Reichelt's injury, Dooley opted to give Kaya's Miguel Tanton the start and welcomed back Ott and Bahadoran from suspension.

The match started slightly in favor of the visitors with a free kick by 6'3" forward Pak Kwang-Ryong in the fourth minute went way over Neil Etheridge's reach.

Tempers almost made into fireworks seven minutes later, as Luke Woodland pushed So after the latter tackled him hard at the back, with Saudi referee Fahad Al Mirdasi booked both of them as a result.

Six minutes later, the Azkals dodged one of the North Korean cannonballs as Pak's header hit the post and Yong Chol's rebound was cleared on the line by Amani Aguinaldo.

Both teams produced end-to-end football in the following minutes but both went to nought due to solid defences as it was goalless the first 40 minutes, highlighted by Patiño's weak shots that were easily saved by Ri Myong Guk.

But three minutes later, the Global winger drew first blood in the match, following up Patiño's initial shot with a header for his third goal in the second round into the that sent Rizal Memorial into frenzied celebrations.

However, the visitors from East Asia silenced the crowd almost immediately a minute added on in half time, as Kyong Jin blasted home the follow up of his initial shot that was blocked to level the match.

Yet North Korea sucked the life out of the historic ground just three minutes into the restart as Hyok Chol easily poked the ball into the empty net after a free kick play that turned into the mad scramble in the goalmouth.

The enterprising play of the hosts, largely in part by their impressive passing and their fighting heart, finally bore fruit in the 83rd minute, as Ott smashed a low-bouncing equalizer into the bottom left corner of Myong Guk that was a product of a backheel of the Kaya dynamo outside of the box that the Ceres midfielder duly complied.

With the loud roar of the 7,351 supporters in attendance, the Azkals justified their never say die attitude as they completed the comeback at full time, as Ramsay latched on another Patiño cross to beat Myong Guk on a 1-on-1 from six yards to cap off one of the greatest comebacks in the recent memory of Philippine football.

Follow him on Twitter: @KevinLEstrada