The Philippine Azkals saved the best for last in the FIFA qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Asian Cup with a pulsating 3-2 victory over regional powerhouse North Korea at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium on Tuesday night.
Down 1-2 at the start of the second half in its last match in the qualifiers, goals from Manny Ott in the 86th minute and Iain Ramsay in the 90th minute made the difference as the country’s national team gave its skipper Juani Guirado a happy send-off with its first-ever win against North Korea.
Guirado, 34, had decided to leave the Azkals to devote more time to his family in Spain and at the same time focus more on club duties with Bacolod City-based Ceres-La Salle.
The triumph was also a fitting reward for German-American Thomas Dooley, whose stint as Azkals coach was to have ended also on Tuesday but his contract was reportedly renewed.
Misagh Bahadoran broke the ice in the 43rd minute off a shot by Javier Patino.
At the last minute of the first half, however, the Chollima, as the North Korean side is popularly called, equalized with a goal from So Kyung Jin.
Six minutes into the second half, the visitors made it 2-1 as Ri Hyok Chol sent a header to the back of the net, despite fine defending by Azkals goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.
All seemed to have been lost for the Philippine Azkals until Ott made it 2-2 in the dying minutes of the game against the North Korean side, which had played in the World Cup twice, the first time in 1966.
The Azkals held on to the lead at 3-2, thanks to Ramsay’s scorcher at the end of regulation play, and coasted along during four minutes of added time.
The Philippines, meanwhile, has not gone beyond the second round of group play of the quadrennial World Cup.
With Tuesday’s historic win, the Azkals are now third (10 points) in the group vying for the next stage of the Asian Cup.
The top two teams gain automatic qualification in the region’s premier tournament among national squads, among them Japan, South Korea, Australia and United Arab Emirates.
A win by Uzbekistan over Bahrain would send the Azkals to the next stage of the Asian Cup as the best third-placed team in their group.
Result of the game, which was played also on Tuesday night, was not immediately available.