At one point in the match, it looked like the Philippine Azkals were bound for a disappointing result. [firstpara]
Despite thoroughly outclassing the Mongolian side for the most part of the contest, the score line read 1-0 as the match approached the 90th minute.
It is not a comfortable margin by any means, nor indicative of how one-sided the game actually was.
Thankfully, Azkals poster boy Phil Younghusband struck true in the 3rd minute of stoppage time, giving the Philippines some much needed breathing room for the 2nd leg of their home-and-away series against Mongolia in the AFC Challenge Cup.
Younghusband fired off a last minute strike that finally caught a favorable bounce off the goalpost that had often been unforgiving for the Philippine side in the match.
The tone was set early in the game when the Azkals dominated possession of the ball and earned several scoring opportunities against the Blue Wolves, who were struggling to control the ball all evening.
In the 24th minute, the Mongolians saw one of their midfielders sent off after accumulating a pair of yellow cards in the first half.
Playing against an undermanned side, the Azkals kept the pressure high, firing several attempts at the Mongolian goal.
Chieffy Caligdong scored the first goal in the 42nd minute. He received the ball on the left side, juggled it to get free from his defender, and sent it right between the legs of the Mongolian goalie.
The Blue Wolves seemed content to hang onto the modest 1-0 line, continuing to play defensive in the 2nd half, despite being down. Ian Araneta and the rest of the Azkals would repeatedly find their chances to score, but won't find the mark until Younghusband finally put in his last minute goal to complete the final score.
In truth, this seemed less a competitive football match than it was a homecoming party for the Azkals. They'd become the darlings of the Philippine sports world after impressive results in the AFF Suzuki Cup late last year.
The Panaad Stadium in Bacolod was overflowing with rabid Azkals fans, cheering, singing and doing the wave repeatedly as the match went on. After securing the victory, the home team made rounds thanking the fans before retreating to the locker room.
The fans were then treated to a long fireworks display that seemed more fitting for a championship match than the opening leg of a series between the 152nd and 182nd ranked teams in the world.
The passion is understandable, though, as the Philippine side and their fans were denied the opportunity to host a home game in their semifinal series against Indonesia in the AFF Suzuki Cup.
The Azkals play the second leg of the series in Ulan Bator on March 15.