On paper, the Philippine Azkals will win their 2019 Asian Cup qualifying match against the national football team of Tajikistan today at Dushanbe, capital of the landlocked Central Asian republic.
The Azkals and their Tajikistan counterparts first met in 2008, with the clash ending in a scoreless draw.
In their second meeting in 2012, the Philippine national eleven beat the Tajik side, 2-1, in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal.
This Wednesday’s game will be the third between the two sides, with the Philippines at No. 126 in the latest FIFA rankings and Tajikistan at 137.
But the encounter will happen in Dushanbe, giving the proverbial homecourt advantage to Tajikistan, where football is popular, and probably the victory.
That is, the Tajiks will triumph if the PhilippineAzkals had not yet moved on from their humiliation in the hands of the Chinese national football team in an 8-1 massacre of a friendly in Guangzhou last June 7.
That rout, ironically, was meant to test the Azkals’ preparedness for today’s AFC qualifier.
It was a double whammy many years apart—the Chinese national side blanked the pre-Azkal Philippines, 8-0, when China was also still nowhere in the world football stage (it is ranked 82 at present by FIFA, a spot not worth crowing about, in our opinion).
It would be better for the Philippines to think of its recent 4-1 victory over Nepal also in 2019 AFC Cup qualifying or, a little far back, its historic 3-2 win over the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) in 2016 for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
If the Azkals continued to sulk after the Guangzhou whitewashing, they would be in trouble against Tajikistan.
Besides, Coach Thomas Dooley’s boys have some other problems to deal with.
Star goalkeeper Neil Etheridge has been reported not to be sure about suiting up for Dushanbe (he was a no-show in the China friendly).
That leaves Patrick Deyto or Nick O’Donnel (reportedly injured) to guard the net because another great keeper—Ronald Muller—is also reportedly not sure about joining the trip to Tajikistan.
Also reportedly injured from the Guangzhou game are Misagh Bahadoran (lone scorer in that friendly), Phil Younghusband, Daisuke Sato and Jeff Christiaens and we don’t know if they would be available (no line-up for Dushanbe has been announced at press time).
Football is a healthy men’s game and to wade into the action “bloodied” even before the referee blows the whistle is madness.
Okay, maybe we can have a national team whose members are not beholden to their local or international clubs and who seem to take a rain check each time they are called to serve the country.
Until then, we can only wish the Philippine Azkals the best of luck (read: win) in their Tajikistan assignment and the next, if only for them to keep the loyalty and maintain the support of Filipino football fans.