Final score: Philippines 1, Sri Lanka 1 (HT 0-1)
As the fog of war settled down, the Azkals survived wave after wave of Sri Lankan attack and one goal disadvantage in the first half. Sharp elbows, hard tackles, yellow cards, and blatant play-acting forced the men of Michael Weiss to dig in deeper until Nate Burkey came into the rescue and score the all-important equalizer. The small but insignificant Filipino crowd at the Sungathadasa Stadium was brought back to life.
The Philippines World Cup dream remain alive as the series shifts to Manila for the rubber match knowing a scoreless draw is enough to propel the Azkals to the second round encounter with the Kuwaitis. Looking forward to see the Azkals play in the "newly" refurbished Rizal Memorial Stadium in front of the home crowd. I'm just wondering if we can have better television coverage with men covering the game doing their homework. No offense to Ronnie Nathanielsz (though a former Sri Lankan) but he doesn't know what to say and the game coverage feels like watching an endless reruns of UAAP games on Studio 23. Darren Hartmann would be the perfect man for the job, right?
The Azkals still played like a team looking for its identity. It's quite understandable considering many new faces were added from Angel Guirado to Manny Ott, so the team chemistry and organization is still in question. Groping for form, Azkals counterattacked and tried to wear down the Red Lions as they forced a tie. We need to win convincing road games before we meet the powerhouses of the region like Australia, Japan, and South Korea if we even reach that far. We need to destroy Sri Lanka back in Manila so that looking forward to the next round would give us enough confidence boost against Kuwait.
The next game would be quite as hard as the first one even if we do have the edge but getting the hometown treatment would also be our disadvantage if we go complacent in the game. It's a long, long way to go. Here is how the big picture of the first round of the World Cup Qualifiers for the Asian Football Confederation if the Azkals do well and made it to the next rounds: