The ghosts of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup final have finally been vanquished
For the first time in its history, the Philippines is set to compete in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup after a 2-1 win over Tajikistan, Tuesday night at the historic Rizal Memorial in Manila.
Kevin Ingreso’s double act and Phil Younghusband’s spot-kick allowed the Azkals to finish top of Group F with 12 points.
The result is a landmark moment for Philippine football, as it is the first time both the Azkals and the Philippine Women’s National Football Team are set to compete in their respective Asian Cups with the latter’s campaign set to begin next month.
“I just want to read a couple of names: Simone Rota, Philip Younghusband, Dennis Villanueva, Sean Kane, Kevin Ingreso, Manuel Ott, Mike Ott, Daisuke Sato, Javier Patino, Patrick Reichelt, Neil Etheridge, Misagh Bahadoran, Iain Ramsey, James Younghusband, Pika Minegishi, Jeffrey Christiaens, Carli de Murga, Junior Munoz, Stephan Palla, Patrick Deyto, Nick O’ Donnell, Curt Dizon, Kenshiro Daniels, and Fitch Arboleda. Those are the guys that made history tonight,” proclaimed Azkals coach Thomas Dooley. “Those are the guys who are our best players at the moment in the Philippines and I’m really, really proud of those guys.”
Following a goalless first half, Dooley’s men went close to breaking the deadlock when skipper Younghusband was through on goal, only for the Davao Aguilas star to shoot painfully wide and for the opportunity to go begging. Younghusband then had a free kick that went straight into the hands of Tajikistan goalkeeper Mahkamov Abouaziz.
Afterwards, things did not go to plan for the Azkals in the 62nd minute. Ingreso’s clumsy tackle in the Philippines box was spotted by referee Jarred Gillett, which led to a penalty. Nazarov Akhtam then coolly converted the spot-kick in the 64th minute.
The Rizal Memorial was stunned. The fans who packed the grandstand tried to roar the Azkals back to life. Manuel Ott had a sniff at goal from outside the box, but his attempt failed to hit the target. Nevertheless, salvation was about to arrive.
While Ingreso was at fault for the penalty, the Ceres Negros stalwart redeemed himself in the 73rd minute. Iain Ramsay produced a fantastic cross from the left flank that met an unmarked Ingreso, who headed the ball home, much to the delight of the thousands of fans in attendance.
Ingreso’s goal was the clincher, while Phil Younghusband’s late penalty was the insurance. Patrick Reichelt, who replaced Mike Ott early in the second half, was fouled in the Tajikistan box. Gillett showed no hesitation once again to point to the spot, and Younghusband scored his 50th international goal to give the Azkals a first taste of the lead.
With time running out, a scuffle ensued between both teams. Defender Dennis Villanueva and a Tajikistan player were sent off for their part in the scuffle but the result was sealed by then.
The Philippines had finally made it to the Asian Cup.
“Right now it’s just after the game, we have the biggest success in the history of Philippine football,” Dooley expressed. “Those guys that I’ve called, those are the new heroes, the new stars that we should focus on. And we will find out what we’re gonna do. What we should do is maybe spend a little bit more time together. That would be nice to have the players a little bit more often and individually as a group in defense, midfield and forward.
“A little bit more talking about what we should do. If we can get that done, there’s a lot we can improve,” added the USA Football legend.
Filipino football fans shall now await the draw for Asian football’s grandest stage, a scenario that was unthinkable a decade ago. The draw for the United Arab Emirates-hosted tournament shall be held on May 4, 2018 in Dubai.
Philippines XI: Etheridge (GK), Rota, De Murga, Mike Ott, Ramsay, Manuel Ott, Bahadoran, Younghusband (C), Sato, Villanueva, Ingreso.
Tajikistan XI: Abouaziz (GK), Siyovush, Iskandar, Ergashev, Davronov (C), Jahongir, Fathullo, Nazarov, Dzhalilov, Amirbex.