Last Tuesday night, the Philippine National Men’s Football Team, the Philippine Azkals, enjoyed an epic match to end their joint second round 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
The Philippines faced North Korea that evening and only a win against the visitors was needed in order to guarantee safe passage to the next 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying round.
And boy was it a thriller.
The Philippines needed two goals in the last ten minutes of the match to comeback against North Korea, 3-2, at the end of ninety minutes.
Unknown to many, however, was the intriguing subplot which preceded the game. Azkals head coach Thomas Dooley’s contract was bound to expire – immediately after the match.
It was definitely an interesting newsbit, however, the fantastic win was the thing which was in everyone’s mind after the match.
For Azkals manager Dan Palami, the result was special not only because it was the Philippines’ first win against North Korea ever since he took over the team’s affairs, but also because it’s a sign of progress.
“Whereas before, while it was true that we were winning games, we started winning against Laos, against Macau in the Long Teng Cup. So we have finally progressed to these kinds of games. That has shown how much we have improved,” Palami said.
“I mean you lose against Uzbekistan who is 70 points above us in the FIFA World Rankings and then you win against North Korea who may be lower in rankings, but really they are a powerhouse in Asia so we are happy where we are.”
If there was one lesson the Philippines learned in the qualification campaign, then it is perhaps to travel to away games earlier.
The Azkals endured a horrible schedule, especially when they had two successive away games at North Korea and Bahrain. Palami agreed with the notion and felt that they needed to prepare long-term wise for those kind of games. “I think this will give us a better chance going into the next round of the Asian Cup qualifier,” he opined.
Nevertheless, Dooley’s contract became the main discussion point afterwards. People can easily observe that the former USA captain has improved the team tactically and physically while also adding a lot of new faces in the squad.
Palami has stated that the announcement of who’ll be the Azkals head coach will be revealed sometime around mid-April. He explained, “We have to talk about it, but as I’ve said I think personally I’m happy with the way coach Dooley has been handling the team. I think he deserves a contract extension.”
“It’s of course dependent on whether the Federation and myself can afford him if he wants something more, but as I said as far as performance is concerned, I’m happy with him.”
The Azkals’ 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign has delivered a lot of lows and highs to Filipino football fans.
With the 2019 AFC Asian Cup third qualifying round to go, expect some more twists and turns before the Philippines, hopefully, makes it to the tournament proper.
Expect Palami and, if all goes well, Dooley to be there to lead the team.