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FIFA WCQ: Ramsay, Strauss score as Azkals snatch crucial win VS Maldives

Despite a costly missed penalty-kick in the first half, the Philippine Azkals produced a spirited second half display as Iain Ramsay and John-Patrick Strauss convert their chances en-route to an important 2-1 win against Maldives in a joint World Cup 2022 and Asian Cup 2023 qualifying fixture held in Male last Thursday, November 14, 2019.

Coming from a performance full of positives against China, The Azkals management opted to stick to virtually the same set of starters from that match with Luke Woodland the only change in place of Martin Steuble, who was suspended due to accumulation of yellow cards, on defense.

The match began with hosts Maldives trying to employ a more attacking approach by dominating possession while the visiting Philippine side were more cautious.

With the Maldivians’ positive start, a corner kick was produced in the 13th minute after a shot from Hamza Mohamed was deflected out of bounds by an Azkal player. The ensuing play did not produce a breakthrough though but the early dynamics of the game tipped more in favor of the hosts as they were able to come up with some clever combination plays.

In the 23rd minute Patrick Strauss received an elbow from Akram Abdul Gani during an aerial challenge that wounded the Azkal that put a brief pause in the proceedings as the Erzgebirge Aue midfielder received treatment.

Momentarily down to ten men, Maldives tried to take advantage as they crafted a couple of aerial long balls into the Philippines’ own box but the Azkals were able to scramble and defend their lines barely.

A golden opportunity did arrive just at the half-hour mark for Scott Cooper’s men as Patrick Reichelt saw himself in a very good position to shoot with only the keeper to beat but he may have took too much time to get his bearings as his shot was desperately cleared by a defender just in time.

The ensuing corner kick though produced a fortunate turn of events in favor of the Azkals as a Maldivian handled the ball inside the box for the Philippines to be awarded a penalty kick. But it turned out to be a chance that only came begging as Patrick Reichelt, who stood up to take the spot-kick, was denied the breakthrough.

Despite the denial, the penalty kick proved to be pivotal as the Filipinos began to slowly get a foothold in the match by being able to come up with better plays and forays into the opposition’s half.

After three minutes of added time that saw some sloppy plays from both ends of the pitch, the first half ended in a stalemate, with Reichelt’s missed penalty-kick a few moments after the half-hour mark serving as the most clear-cut chance for an icebreaker.

After the restart the Philippine Azkals tried to turn things around in terms of their approach to the game as they cranked up the urgency a few notches higher with Iain Ramsay firing an attempt inside the box that only sailed wide of the post.

Soon enough, Maldives were able to come up with their own well-crafted offensive response, almost successfully getting the icebreaker, but AZ Alkmaar defender Justin Baas produced an all-important intervention to thwart what could have been a sure-goal for the hosts.

But the goal did arrive in favor of the Azkals, with Iain Ramsay being rewarded for his previous efforts, as the Sukhothai FC winger showed a momentary piece of skill before unleashing a firm shot that beat the keeper to give his side a crucial advantage.

A crucial blow though for the Azkals ensued at the hour mark as a late tackle from a Maldivian player saw Daisuke Sato at the receiving end resulting to a knock to the Muangthong United defensive stalwart.

With Sato not able to proceed at full strength, he was replaced by Curt Dizon, the former Ceres-Negros wingman who now plays for Chonburi FC of Thailand.

In the 67th minute, a free-kick was awarded to the Philippines. Despite the attempt being at a considerable distance, Stephan Schrock produced an on-target effort which was smothered by Maldives’ keeper, Mohamed Faisal.

The Philippines immediately applied relentless pressure, giving Luke Woodland a good chance to score from range, with the hosts unsettled in defense, only to be denied by the bar. A scramble for the ball ensued, with Reichelt’s follow up unsuccessful. However, John Patrick Strauss was at the right place and time to slot in the loose-ball to double the lead in the 69th minute.

Despite the two-goal cushion, the Philippine Azkals were still far from danger as the Maldivians continued to push forward and get themselves into the game as testified by a 78th minute effort that tested Cardiff City FC keeper Neil Etheridge.

It continued to be a compelling match as the clock neared the 90th minute mark as the South Asians never let up with their efforts to come up with a result despite the piling odds against them with time already not on their side.

A late attempt for fightback from Maldives produced a late consolation in the end, but the two-goal cushion proved enough as full-time blew with the scoreboard showing 1-2 in favor of the visitors, setting up the Azkals for an all-important fixture against Syria on Tuesday, November 19, in Dubai.

The result maintains the Philippines’ place in third in Group A of the qualifiers and within arm’s reach of second placed China who face Syria later on the same day.

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