Due to the fact that the Asian Football Confederation set joint qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup, a country that has failed to qualify for the former may not necessarily fail to do so for the latter.
In that eventuality, a country may even deem qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup to be a success in itself. Take the Philippine National Men’s Football Team (Azkals), who are on the verge of making it to the third qualifying round of the continental competition.
The Azkals are currently fourth in Group H with seven points. It may look dim, but not so in terms of the table rankings of the best fourth-placed teams, of which they are part of the top two with a healthy four points.
Once — or if — they make it through to the third qualifying round, twelve slots will then be up for grabs for a place in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Indeed, the permutations may seem complicated; however, the main point is that them, qualifying for the premier continental competition is still possible.
And doing so will be one massive achievement for the Philippines.
Some observers have stated in social media that all the Azkals need to go through to the next round is a draw against North Korea tomorrow (March 29, 2016) at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. That, though, is something with which head coach Thomas Dooley won’t be contented.
Dooley said, “Obviously we would like to win the game. A couple of reasons why, one is I want to win every game, second is we play at home… then the third one is that it’s important for us to qualify for the last round of the Asian qualification. We can do that with a victory tomorrow.”
“I believe in the team so I think that we are good enough to play football.”
One pre-match concern of Dooley is whether or not his players have successfully recovered after their trip away to Uzbekistan. “It’s not easy”, Dooley admitted, as he mentioned details like stress, climate, and waiting time as factors which have harmed the team.
Dooley then elaborated, “I always have to focus on the mental preparation from the players that they be ready, that they be focused, think positive. We have to prepare mentally, visualizing about tomorrow, (about) how physical the games could be, how every (opposition) player is so every (Azkal) gets clips of the players so that they understand how he moves, how quick he is.”
“If you’ll be focused for that and you remember that in the stadium you have to run, it’s only ninety minutes and you have to do the best job ever and then after that we can collapse and stay a couple of days at home in bed it’s fine.”
Moreover, James Younghusband, Miguel Tanton, and Daniel Gadia are new additions to the squad for tomorrow’s game.
Dooley praised Younghusband for his willingness to regain his place. “He’s a very professional player,” Dooley stressed. When players such as Aly Borromeo and Carli De Murga were brought up to him for possible recalls, he stated that he wanted them to prove their fitness first after their injuries.
“They need to go for a longer period of time showing they’re a 100% fit for that physical challenge and you cannot only have one good game and say ‘I’ll be back in the national team.’ It’s not like that,” he said, while adding that consistency is key to earn a slot in the squad.
Another thing that Dooley has had to deal with has been Juani Guirado’s international retirement. Guirado’s retirement adds to the Azkals’ backline woes, with Jerry Lucena and Rob Gier having done the same just recently.
The 54-year-old admitted that it was a big loss, but has faith in the young players. “We have young players. We have Luke (Woodland) who can take that spot if we play three at the back. He’s 19. We have Amani (Aguinaldo) who’s 20 (years-old), (Daisuke) Sato who’s 20-21. It’s an unbelievable young team and we just need to give them experience,” the American-German head coach said.
All that matters for the Azkals is a win tomorrows and Dooley hoped that fans will pack the Rizal Memorial to make home advantage count.
He cited Uzbekistan’s crowd as something Azkals fans could emulate to help the team win all three points. “If you have 30,000 people in the stadium singing and pushing you forget about (the physical weakness, the stress and travel), you can collapse after the game but during the game you do everything that’s possible. That’s why it’s so important to have fans who support,” Dooley closed.
In the end, an Azkals win will be a fine finale for this campaign before the next stage. It’s also going to be incredible if the Philippines beat North Korea, as the latter have qualified for the World Cup in the past.
A victory tomorrow should once again reignite football’s light in the country with Dooley, perhaps, at the center of it.