Younghusbands save Azkals blushes as they split points with Yemen

Brothers Phil (front) and James (back) Younghusband saved the Azkals once again as they return to Bacolod after a 4-year exile. (file)
By Kevin Estrada

MANILA--The Philippines dropped points in Asian Cup qualifying for the first time, sharing the spoils with Yemen in a 2-2 draw on Tuesday night at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod.

Returning to the City of Smiles after a four-year wait, Thomas Dooley's Azkals are still on top of Group F after the stalemate despite losing their perfect record in the process to end the first half of the qualifiers.

The Younghusband brothers instigated the comeback twice in the match after the home side went a goal down in both halves in the rain-soaked pitch.

The visiting Gulf side took the game on a higher note by their quick counters as forwards Mohsen Hasan and Ahmed Al-Sarori terrorized a makeshift Azkals backline led by Carli De Murga and Dennis Villanueva at the heart of it each time they had the ball.

And that peskiness was enough for Yemen who surprised everyone by going ahead in the 27th minute, with defender Mudir Al-Radaei wiggling his diving header to the right post and into the line from a corner kick.

However, the lead would only last for just three minutes, when the captain moved within three goals of a milestone half-century with a thunderous free kick that grounded Mohammed Ayash level matters at 1-1 after the first half.

Abrham Mebratu's ploy of putting five forwards to start the match bore fruit once again at the restart, with Abdulwasea Al-Matari shoving Yemen ahead once again in the 55th minute.

Taking advantage once again from a leaky defence, Al Matari beats Neil Etheridge with a dummy and poked the ball into the empty net to silence Panaad for the second time.

But that galvanized the Azkals even more, in which they elevated their play later on.

That aggressive play by the home side paid huge dividends with 19 minutes left as James Younghusband headed Manny Ott's free kick that leveled the match.

Yemen tried to take all three points away at the death, but Etheridge's diving stop in time added on preserved an unbeaten record for the home side.

The stalemate means that the Azkals now had seven points, two above their opponents and four ahead of Tajikistan who won their first ACQ away at bottom side Nepal.

Both sides will meet again in the return tie in Qatar a month later.

Follow him on Twitter: @KevinLEstrada