Philippine Azkals beat Hong Kong for the first time, behind mammoth Neil Etheridge performance

Hong Kong became the latest name on a growing list of countries the Philippines have finally defeated under manager Dan Palami and coach Michael Weiss, as the Azkals edged out the home team, 1-0, on Tuesday, at the Mong Kok Stadium in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

James Younghusband scored the lone goal in the 33rd minute, climbing above his man to reach the ball after a defensive error. Hong Kong had a penalty in the second, but top scorer Chan Siu Ki opted to pass the ball down the middle and Neil Etheridge stopped it with his legs.

Etheridge made another good save later on, from a flicked-on header on a corner, before saving once more from Chan Siu Ki, as Hong Kong opened up the Philippines, but the Fulham goalkeeper spread himself big to block the poked effort from point-blank range.

It was a solid performance overall for the Azkals in difficult rainy conditions, and now they have recorded their first-ever win over Hong Kong.

First half

Both teams started the match at a fast tempo, pushing hard and high, passing and moving without the ball. For the opening skirmishes though, the teams largely canceled each other out.

The best chance of the early stages came when Stephan Schrock tried a cheeky effort from just outside the area, making the ball bounce on the wet surface right in front of the keeper to force an awkward stop from young Chinese Super League goalkeeper Yapp Hung Fai.

The Azkals then countered as Jeffrey Christiaens drove forward with the ball and found Schrock. With Christiaens bursting down the center to Schrock's right, the Bundesliga midfielder took the ball outside the last defender and tried to chip into the middle to find Christiaens, but the cross was just too high.

It looked as if Hong Kong had avoided the danger even though the Philippines won back possession, and Schrock curled in a cross from the left. But with a poor touch to clear the ball away, Chan Wai Ho, Hong Kong's captain, spooned the ball up in the air and James Younghusband stole in to jump over his marker and head towards goal.

The ball creeped into the corner, despite Yapp at full stretch, as the older Younghusband scored his eighth international goal for the Philippines in the 33rd minute.

Hong Kong was then forced into an early substitution as Chu Siu Kei came out limping, replaced by Lam Ka Wai. Then, Neil Etheridge wasn't certain a cross-shot wasn't creeping in. The keeper dove at full stretch to tip it away from goal and Carli De Murga swept up to clear the ball out for a corner.

From the corner, the Hong Kong captain Chan got up amongst the crowd to glance a header just wide of the goal, sending a warning shot to the Azkals defense in the 38th minute.

Second half

Hong Kong pressed forward, and a decent cross found Chan Siu Ki in the 52nd minute but his header bounced wide. The home team then made a double substitution with Lee Wai Lim and Jaimes McKee replacing Lee Hong Lim and Chan Mai Fai to keep legs fresh. After Schrock chipped the ball over in the 64th minute, Hong Kong made their fourth substitution, with Lo Kwan Yee on for Kwok Kin Pong.

Hong Kong then won a penalty. Juani Guirado seemed to slide for an age while catching his man in the pouring rain in the 67th minute, and the Hong Kong attacker smartly went down.

Before Chan Siu Ki took the penalty, OJ Porteria came on for Rob Gier as a striker replaced a central defender, while the Philippines' captain's armband was handed to a third player in the match. Chan decided to pass the penalty down the middle, and though Neil Etheridge dove to his right, he managed to get a foot to the ball. With the ball bobbling, Etheridge was quick to kick it clear, as he kept the Azkals ahead with his second penalty save- the first coming against North Korea in the 2012 Challenge Cup.

Marwin Angeles came on in the 70th minute for Paul Mulders, while Wong Wai replaced Leung Chun Ping for Hong Kong later. Chan Man Fai earned the next booking for dangerously sliding in on Schrock from behind, while luckily avoiding punishment for a short headbutt that missed Chris Greatwich.

Hong Kong almost equalized when Lam Ka Wai curled in a corner at the near post in the 85th minute, and a glanced header almost snuck in until an alert Etheridge reacted quickly. Cheung Kin Fung struck a free kick around the wall but into Etheridge's hands.

Hong Kong got their best chance against the Azkals from open play. Lee Hong Lim split two defenders to feed his teammate, whose low cross to the backpost went behind the Azkals' line. Chan Siu Ki was onto it and poked towards goal, but Etheridge pulled off another fantastic stop from point-blank range as he underlined a man of the match performance.

If there was any doubt that Neil Etheridge was not the Philippines' number one keeper, it was erased with this performance, stopping all of Hong Kong's seven shots on target from eighteen total, compared to the Philippines' seven shots and two on target.

Into injury time, Lexton Moy made a cameo appearance, having replacing Javier Patino in the line-up, as the latter wasn't released by his Thai club Buriram United.

What's next for the Philippines?

It was a good victory away from home for the Philippines. The Azkals will be applauded, as Neil Etheridge and Stephan Schrock stood out. Fans would have wanted to see Manny and Mike Ott brought on though, as they traveled from Germany.

The Azkals have a friendly with India scheduled on September 6 next, though there are more FIFA international dates in between, with time to prepare for the SEA Games at the end of 2013 and the 2014 Challenge Cup next March.

The Peace Cup will likely be repeated, too. But for now, the team can rest on their fourth straight win in 2013 and their fourth straight clean sheet – with clinical finishing and great goalkeeping spelling the difference between the sides. - RAF,

GMA News

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