Syria sweeps Philippine Azkals in FIFA World Cup qualifying

The Philippine Azkals fell to Syria 1-0 in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match at the Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai on Tuesday evening.

Ward Al Salama secured the only goal of the match to ensure Syria swept the Philippines in their matchup in Group A of the qualifiers.

The Azkals were second best in the opening half against the Syrians, who forced Philippine keeper Neil Etheridge into action on multiple occasions. Syria found the opener in the 23rd minute, after Al Salama ghosted into the Philippine box in the 23rd minute to latch on to a low driven cross before smashing a shot into the roof of the net.

The Syrians almost doubled their lead before halftime but Omar Alsoma skewed his shot wide after losing his defender on a deft turn.

The Philippines came out of halftime with more urgency, with captain Stephan Schrock and forward Angel Guirado threatening the Syria goal soon after the restart.

Despite an improved attacking performance from the Philippines in the second half, the Syrian defenders did more than enough to secure a clean sheet.

The Azkals best chances came at the feet of substitutes Mark Hartmann and Mike Ott. Hartmann saw his close ranged effort saved by keeper Ibrahim Alma in the 73rd minute, while Ott was denied a dramatic injury time equalizer after working his way deep into the box.

"We talked at halftime and we came out in the second half, we looked stronger," coach Scott Cooper said. "We stretched them (Syria), we had some chances. It's a shame, the chances we had were chances I would expect would result in a goal. At least three of them should be goals."

The victory cements Syria's place atop Group A with 15 points after five games played, while the Philippines continues to sit at third place with seven points after five games.

China and the Azkals are level in points, but the Chinese team holds on to the second spot by virtue of goal difference.

The Philippine Azkals will take a break before resuming their FIFA World Cup Qualifying campaign against Guam on March 26, 2020.