Amidst all the excitement for the Philippine Men’s National Football Team’s debut in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, a bombshell struck Filipino football fans roughly one hour before kickoff. Phil Younghusband, arguably the most famous name in Philippine football, was named as one of the seven substitutes rather than a starter for the game.
The Philippines’ top international scorer eventually did come on, but it was in the 88th minute of the match, with South Korea ahead by 1-0. It was obviously not the way Younghusband envisioned his Asian Cup campaign debut, but that was how it panned out.
“You can’t really do much in that time. Obviously, it was nice to get on the field, so I’m happy to have made an appearance in the Asian Cup in the country’s first appearance,” commented the 106-cap Azkal.
“It’s disappointing to have not had played a bigger role but there’s still games to go so hopefully I’ll get more game time then. [sic]”
For his part, Azkals coach Sven-Goran Eriksson explained that the former Meralco Sparks player was left on the bench for purely tactical reasons.
“You know when you start a game, you decide who you want to play as head coach. And we knew, all coaches knew, that if we go out with a very offensive lineup, they will kill us with counter-attacks,” said the 70-year-old mentor.
“We didn’t want to give them that chance. That means we only played with one striker and four midfielders, where [Patrick] Reichelt played right,” added Eriksson, who has managed numerous squads and national teams since 1978.
“Of course, when you choose your way to play, you have to put in the best players at the moment in that system and that’s what we did. The starting XI was the best in that moment.”
While on the bench, Younghusband watched how his teammates kept up with their South Korean counterparts at the Al Maktoum Stadium. Although the Philippines ultimately succumbed to South Korea, 1-0, Eriksson’s men proved that they could compete on Asia’s biggest stage.
“We kept it 0-0 for a long time and the longer we kept it 0-0, the more confidence it gave the boys.
“I think every player had to work in this team. If you lose concentration or sleep, South Korea will take advantage because they are a very good team. I think the players, every single player worked their socks off and they deserve credit for their performance and work-rate,” explained the 31-year-old.
With this loss, the Philippines needs to pick up points against China and then Kyrgyzstan if it wants to advance out of Group C and into the round of 16. And who’s to say that Younghusband can’t play a big role for the Azkals in both games?
“Our goal from the beginning was to get to the last sixteen so we still have a chance. We’ve got tough games against China and Kyrgyzstan but with our display tonight, it gives us hope that we can get a result against those teams.”