One final exam separates the Philippine Men’s National Football Team from a maiden 2019 AFC Asian Cup ticket
The success or failure of the Azkals’ qualification campaign, that has gone on for almost three years and 13 fixtures across Asia, will be determined against Tajikistan on Tuesday at the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
Beforehand, though, Thomas Dooley’s men negotiated a friendly against Fiji last March 22 at the aforementioned venue. Goals from Phil Younghusband, Kevin Ingreso, and Pika Minegishi handed the Azkals a three-goal cushion but the Fijians rallied back to make it 3-2 after 90 minutes.
“I think this was a good game as a preparation against Tajikistan because (Fiji) was a little bit physical and the player started to play one touch, two touches, moved the ball very well,” said Man of the Match Misagh Bahadoran. “That’s why the other team did not have a chance to injure us. If we play like this against Tajikistan, we have a big chance because we have very good quality players.
“Hopefully, (Javier) Patino comes and finishes the chances more.”
The Azkals coasted at the start of the match. A 3-0 lead looked set to start a rout for the Philippines, but multiple substitutions and individual mistakes allowed Fiji to get two goals back and even target an improbable draw in the second half.
Long-time Azkals team manager Dan Palami commented, “As a preliminary match, I think we got to see what we needed to do more so that we can do better on Tuesday. It’s not a good result.
“The fact that they were able to score against us in this kind of game… Against Tajikistan we would have paid a lot for some of the mistakes that we committed.”
All the Azkals need to do to formalize their entry to the big dance is to draw against Tajikistan, at the very least. If Tajikistan win, then the Philippines will need an unlikely Nepal victory or stalemate against Yemen to qualify.
“It’s a great training session. We know that if we play like this against Tajikistan, it will not be enough. It’s perfect. That’s what we want to do,” expressed the USA Football legend.
“We want to show up on the field and wanna do the stuff that we normally do in training, see how it works and continue preparations for the next game.”
Failure to qualify would be a nightmare for the Philippines. But the last time the Philippines defeated Tajikistan, the former arrived on the latter’s home soil after a 1-8 drubbing at the hands of China.
Sometimes it is not the result but the lessons you learn, and the Azkals hope to pass their final exam in what could be a memorable evening.