On paper, the Azkals should lose to Uzbekistan in their FIFA qualifiers on September 8 at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.
This possible result is based on the Philippines’ ranking of 125th in the latest tally of football’s world governing body and the Uzbeks’ 76th.
But the current ranking system used by FIFA “has been criticized for being open to abuse” in that national teams can keep a higher average score by playing fewer friendlies, particularly against weaker squads.
The Swiss eleven, for instance, was seeded for the 2014 World Cup draw, mainly because it only played three friendly matches in 2013.
For the 2018 World Cup preliminary draw, Romania was “one of the surprise seeds,” having taken “advice from a consultant and playing only one friendly in the year before the draw.”
Unveiled in 1992, the system has caused “much debate, particularly regarding the calculation procedure and the resulting disparity between generally perceived quality and world ranking of some teams.”
Still, Uzbekistan ranking higher than the Filipinos is a fact that the Philippine national team would have to contend with when they battle for a spot in the next round for the 2019 World Cup in Russia.
To overcome what seems to be a psychological advantage of the team from Central Asia, the Azkals need a 12th man to push them harder in trying to secure a victory next week.
That guy, multiplied by ten thousand, twenty thousand times, in the persons of football fans might as well do it for the home team, or at least send a message to the visitors that the whole Filipino nation is behind the Azkals.
But the Philippine Sports Stadium seats more than 50,000 and, to exploit the home court (also presumably psychological) edge, the Philippine Football Federation should find ways to fill up the bleachers, the boxes and the ringside.
Fortunately, in football, fans of one team are allowed to make noise, the louder the better, to distract the other side and you can just imagine the effect the chatter would have on the Philippine eleven if the September 8 match went into a penalty shootout.
This is not to try to win at all costs, for that would be terribly unfair to Uzbekistan.
And boorishness and hooliganism would not go unpunished by FIFA, so, people, behave even as you make a racket.
Next week’s match is crucial for the Philippine campaign because a loss would complicate matters for the Azkals.
They will have to win against North Korea in October in Pyongyang, and if they do, they will top the group, sending them to the next round of the 2019 world qualifiers.
North Korea is ranked 124th in the latest FIFA rankings, and it has already beaten Uzbekistan, 4-2.
Meanwhile, the Philippines (just one rung below the East Asian team) has won against Bahrain (2-1) and Yemen (2-0).
Uzbekistan will have to be made aware of the 12th man off the pitch cheering the Azkals to victory.
These “Filipino-foreigners” deserve the nation’s support, more than the” true” Filipinos who have ignored the colors for some reason or other, and FIBA should not be happy about it.