The long wait was worth it.
The much-hyped Filipino-German recruit from the Bundesliga, Gerrit Holtmann, delivered the winning goal for the Philippine men’s national football team at the very last minute, as the Azkals ousted home team Mongolia, 1-0, in the final round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers Saturday afternoon in Ulaanbaatar.
Prior to that goal, the Mongolian defense managed to block a sneak attack by Dylan de Bruycker off a long corner pass by Manny Ott.
With seconds left in the game, fellow Ott tried a second corner kick and fooled the Mongolian defense by issuing a short pass to an unguarded Holtmann, who, after a few dribbles, powered the winning strike past the unsuspecting Mongolian wall.
That was the first international goal of Holtmann, a right winger from VfL Bochum who caught the attention of Filipinos after winning the 2021 German Goal of the Year and a winning goal in an upset win against Bayern Munich.
It was a very difficult game though for the Azkals. Like in their goalless draw against Yemen last Wednesday, they fought a team that chose to park the bus, frustrating the Filipino offense.
Shots on goal from Ott, his brother Mike, and Patrick Reichelt were blocked by the Mongolian defense while three shots from Holtmann and one from Sandro Reyes were off target.
In addition, crosses issued by Holtmann to Bienvenido Marañon and OJ Porteria in counterattacks were saved by Mongolian goalie Monkh-Erdene Enkhtaivan.
Enkhtaivan’s best moment though was a save of Reichelt’s penalty kick at the 77th minute. The kick was awarded after defender Damindorj Bilguun fouled Porteria in the penalty box.
“Mongolia is a very physical team, they defend very well but we created chances. I was always convincing my players to play football and not rely on the long ball. We are happy that in the end that we scored a goal and we’re still alive,” remarked the returning Azkals head coach Thomas Dooley after the game.
The Azkals will shoot for a second straight AFC Asian Cup final berth on Tuesday against Palestine, who also earned a win last Wednesday against Mongolia.
The Philippines and Palestine are at an even one win, one loss, and one draw against each other in three international games in 2011, 2012, and 2014.