Gunning for its first appearance in the top continental tournament, the Philippines takes on also-ran Nepal in a crucial match in the third round of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 2019 qualifiers today at the ANFA Complex in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu.
The unbeaten Azkals and the cellar-dwelling Gorkhalis square off at 2 p.m. (4:15 p.m. in Manila).
The men’s national football team is leading Group F with eight points on two wins and two draws, ahead of Yemen and Tajikistan, which both carry six markers and are set to break their deadlock in the other group match.
A win by the Philippines will secure the country’s maiden appearance in the top-tier quadrennial competition in Asia, which is slated to be held in the United Arab Emirates.
Standing in the way of the Azkals’ historic bid are the Gorkhalis, who are bent not to lose face front of their home fans.
Nepal is already out in the running for the two slots to the main tournament as it only hold a solitary point from a winless record of one draw and three losses.
The Philippines is coming off back-to-back stalemates with Yemen (2-2 and 1-1) while Nepal marches into the match from a demoralizing 0-3 defeat to Tajikistan in the previous international window.
In their campaign opener, the Filipino booters blasted the Nepalese, 4-1, behind Phil Younghusband’s early brace along with Iain Ramsay and Javier Patiño’s contributions in a home game last March 28 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila.
Spitfire striker Patiño, however, is still out due to injury together with sidelined key players Manny Ott, Amani Aguinaldo and Luke Woodland.
Suiting up as replacements are Global Cebu FC forward Paolo Salenga and Ceres Negros FC’s new acquisition Joshua Dutosme, who both received their first call-ups from head coach Thomas Dooley.
Azkals’ mainstay Misagh Bahadoran is making his return after missing out on an away game due to injury while another veteran Marwin Angeles comes back to national duty after a short stint in 2014.