Tajikistan’s booters could have entertained the thought that they were still going to the 2019 Asian Cup even after the Philippines had outlasted them, 2-1, on Tuesday in their do-or-die battle for outright qualification for the region’s top football championship.
Yemen, however, spoiled it all for the boys from Central Asia on the same day by getting past already eliminated Nepal via, coincidentally, a similar 2-1 result.
But unlike Tajikistan, which had drawn first blood in the March 27 match at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila, the underdog Nepalis could not duplicate the feat of the Philippine Azkals’ rivals and gave up a goal in the 23rd minute.
Nepal, however, equalized in the 45th minute, a score that may have given the Tajik coach a heart attack because his wards needed a defeat for Yemen for them to be able to squeeze through the qualifications as the No. 2 team in Group F.
The Yemenis sealed the deal by converting a penalty kick in the 83rd minute, ensuring their entry into next year’s Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Incidentally, it was also a penalty that Phil Younghusband converted that enabled the Philippines to barge into the 2019 Asian Cup.
The final standings in Group F: Philippines, Yemen, Tajikistan and Nepal.
The Azkals’ historic victory earned them a first-ever berth in Asia’s premier football tournament where, in 2019, they will join two other teams from Southeast Asia–Thailand and Vietnam–as contenders for the title currently held by Australia.
Thailand and Vietnam have had evidently better records in the Southeast Asian level than the Philippines but the Azkals could bask in their latest achievement and perhaps turn it into another “miracle” in the UAE.
That result from Tuesday’s encounter could again spell a resurgence in interest in the Philippine Azkals and Philippine football itself.
Already, this was indicated by the mildly shocking sight of more than 4,000 football fans who witnessed that history made in the Philippines-Tajikistan encounter.
It used to be that it was acceptable that 1,000 or 2,000 people show up even for important matches of the Azkals.
Phil and company could bask in Tuesday’s “miracle” but there are big challenges ahead for the national football team.
To be sure, they can now eye bigger trophies, starting with next year’s Asian Cup.
At long last, the Philippine Azkals are ready to rumble in a more competitive international arena.
See you in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.