UNBEATEN Syria subdued upset-conscious the Philippines 1-0 last Tuesday night to remain on top of Group A of the second round of the joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers before a sparse crowd at the Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.
After midfielder Ward Alsalamah scored the icebreaker in the 23rd minute, the Syrians were repeatedly thwarted in their attacks behind another sterling performance by Azkals goalie Neil Etheridge, who had his hands full throughout the match.
While Pinoy booters had their own scoring chances, they just could not come up with the tying marker the rest of the way as they absorbed their second loss in six matches to remain stuck in third place with seven points, capping their 2019 campaign on a downbeat note.
Veteran striker Angel Guirado actually had the closest chance to score for the Azkals early on, forcing Syrian goalie Ibrahim Alma to scramble and save the ball as a crowd of 2,445 fans watched at the 12,000-seat soccer arena.
Alsalamah had the final say, sweeping on the right flank from a cross pass by teammate Osama Osari to blast it in.
Syria picked up its fifth straight win to pull away with 15 points and tighten its grip of top spot while idle China was running second with seven points after five matches. The group topnotcher advances to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers, joined by the best runner-up teams among the eight groups.