If there is one person for people identify with Philippine football for the past decade, it would be hard to argue against Phil Younghusband. He has seen everything the Azkals have gone through over the past 13 years he’s been with the team.
After all the highs and lows of his international career, Younghusband has his greatest moment yet on Tuesday evening.
Level at 1-1 with a few minutes left, Younghusband took the responsibility of putting the Philippines ahead against Tajikistan in an all-important clash en route to the 2019 Asian Cup. It wasn’t strictly a make-or-break moment, but converting from 12 yards would definitely bring the Azkals closer to UAE.
As soon as the ball went past Abduaziz Mahkamov, euphoria erupted from every Filipino in attendance. For Phil, the glorious moment also meant that he joins an elite list of players having scored 50 international goals. He has joined the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, in effect. Yet for him, what means the most is getting the Philippines to the biggest stage in Asian football.
— Lorenzo Del Carmen (@LorenzoDelC) March 27, 2018
“If it came from this game or 10 games’ time, that wasn’t on my mind. It was about getting the win.
“If we’d won with my own goal, that meant more for me. To have the feeling at the same time makes it more special,” the Azkals captain put to words.
Before the game, the home side were well aware that they only needed to avoid defeat to qualify for next year’s Asian showcase. It looked like it harmed them more than it helped, with Tajikistan’s opening goal proving a testament to it.
“It’s a difficult game when you know you don’t need to win the game. We were very cautious, as cautious as possible. They had to win the game,” the 30-year-old striker noted.
Pegged behind by a penalty scored by Tajikistan’s Akhtam Nazarov, the Azkals displayed the trademark Filipino resilience by getting an equaliser seven minutes later. For Younghusband, adversity brought the best out of them.
“When they scored their first goal, I think that spurred us to play our best football because we knew we needed to attack, we needed to score,” disclosed the England-born booter.
“It showed the spirit of the Filipino people, the fighting spirit. Even when we’re down, we can bounce back and I think we showed and typified it today.”
It was never going to be easy for the Azkals. Despite staying unbeaten in the first five games, a loss in their last match would have meant not qualifying for the Asian Cup. A similar run took place in 2014 in the last edition of the AFC Challenge Cup. Making it all the way to the final, the Philippines missed out on the 2015 Asian Cup after they lost 1-0 to Palestine.
The Philippines’ skipper didn’t even look back to that moment in the build up of tonight’s game. It was a bitter one that needs no bringing up, but in hindsight, he simply basked in the glory of the present.
“It’s about doing well in the game today and we had a great opportunity in the Final and would have been a gold medal in the Challenge Cup, but it wasn’t meant to be and this was. We lost that and we have this feeling now. I would have gone for it,” he furthered.
Now that the job of making it to the Asian Cup is done, Younghusband hopes the success will help support what has been an interrupted growth of Philippine football.
Playing for Davao Aguilas in the Philippines Football League, the former Chelsea Academy player said:
“In 2010 we got a lot of support from the private industry, hopefully this moment could be another resurgence of Philippine Football, get people talking about Philippine Football.”
An integral factor in keeping Philippine football grow is the involvement of the public, which was particularly evident in the Azkals’ clash against Tajikistan. Seeing more than 4,600 people fill the grandstand of the Rizal Memorial Stadium, Younghusband expressed his wholehearted gratitude for the crowd’s important presence.
“It was unbelievable.
“That’s what we’ve hoped for. Just looking up when were 1-nil down and they’re cheering us for every tackle, every header, every shot, that was the difference for us coming back. All the players are so appreciative of everyone who watched and supported, even the ones at home, and especially who came to the Grandstand. They gave us the push and gave us the added confidence to come back,” the captain uttered with a smile on his face.
Overall, it really was Phil Younghusband’s night to savor. He hit a personal hat trick of making it to the Asian Cup, scored his 50th goal for the Philippines, and was able to guide to a 2-1 win against Tajikistan.
Having been there through thick and thin, Philippine football’s poster boy’s next chapter with the Philippines awaits 10 months from now in the United Arab Emirates. Only time can tell what happens next.