We’ve realized a few great things days after reeling from the Azkals’ 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification victory against Tajikistan. Not only will the Philippines have the luxury of time to prepare for the 17th Asian Cup in January, but they can also make use of these five milestones that have come to light in the aftermath of last Tuesday’s historic win for the national football team.
1. Kevin Ingreso’s Promising Future
“We knew we had chances. We knew we could press them. I think I was just the lucky one who was just at the right spot,” the 25-year-old midfielder humbly said during the post-game interview. Whether it was luck that gave him the opportunity to equalize the game in the second half, since being down nil-1 in the first via his foul on Tajik player Davronov Nuriddin inside the box, it was Ingreso’s sheer talent and desire to redeem himself that earned him the “Man of the Match” award later that eventful evening.
This didn’t just seal the fate of the Philippine squad’s first-ever stint in the Asian Cup, Ingreso’s bounce-back bodes well for the future of the team in the years to come. His leadership and composure on top of his skills, will be instrumental in the Azkals’ Asian ascent and forever looming World Cup dreams. Together with the likes of Misagh Bahadoran, Daisuke Sato, Simone Rota, and Patrick Reichelt, who’ve been able to inject more youth into the team since their arrival, Ingreso can be one of these now-reliables with the type of fearlessness, talent, and wisdom that he already has early in his playing career.
2. Thomas Dooley’s Desire to Remain as Coach
It’s been four years since Thomas Dooley took on the role for the first time as Philippine national football team’s head coach. It was a coveted post and pressure was always high, with the management and fans wanting to see instant results in the form of wins. But Coach Dooley was never the one to back down from such challenge. He sought control of the team, renewed his contract for another two years in 2016, and another two years later, led the Azkals to its first Asian Cup participation.
His contract is supposed to expire today (Saturday), but Dooley was crystal clear about his wish to stay as head coach when he looked back at his four-year stint with the national team after the Tajikistan match: “We wrote eight, maybe ten histories—ten records. We won first time against Laos; we won first time against Turkmenistan. In those four years, we won first time against Maldives, the first time we went to the Challenge Cup final (2014). We won against Indonesia after 80 years—4-nothing—one of the best games we played,” he continued. “We got a point against Thailand after 40 years. First time we won against a team, who was in the rankings higher than us, on their field; it was very difficult. We did that against Kyrgyztan. We won three games in the World Cup (qualifiers)—against Bahrain, against Yemen, against North Korea. We didn’t lose a game in the Asian Cup (qualifiers) and [we] qualified for the Asian Cup.”
It isn’t fair to judge Dooley’s performance based on last Tuesday’s game, yes, but perhaps these numerous achievements can help manager Dan Palami decide.
3. Phil Younghusband’s Legacy
When star striker Phil Younghusband scored his 50th international goal that night, it got us into a unique emotional frenzy, as it meant that he’d be joining the coveted 62-male footballers list that have scored at least 50 international goals, including Cristiano Ronaldo (81 goals) and Lionel Messi (61).
The goals Younghusband has made while wearing the Philippine flag is a true testament of his dedication to representing the country, which dates back to even before the so-called 2010 Philippine football rebirth. The best part about it? He isn’t stopping at Year 12 with the team, as the Philippines’ top scorer is expected to continue to suit up for several more seasons being at the prime of his football career at age 30.
4. Eight Years’ Worth of Hunger Met
It began with the famous “Miracle in Hanoi” in 2010, when the Azkals came into prominence after upsetting host country Vietnam in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup. Decades before that, the Philippine football team was practically unknown. Eight years since, as the kids say it, WE HERE, for the first time in history, punching our ticket to the AFC Asian Cup. Combine that with a professional league in place to keep the local football industry growing, and an ongoing youth program to present a brighter future for Philippine football, and we have what we should consider a healthy advancement of a football community.
The journey hasn’t been easy, as it can be deemed a rollercoaster ride that has come with losses and lots of off-pitch drama amongst team members. There was also the short struggle of finding the right coach, who should in turn, find the right players to commit to the squad longterm.
This win against Tajikistan doesn’t just take us as far as the 2019 Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates. This should go down in history as the moment the Philippines finally takes that mature turn in football, one that will be highlighted by consistently strong performances in the major international competitions above all.
5. Fans’ Loyalty Checked
Perhaps the unsung heroes of the match against Tajikistan were the fans. Now, it had been several years since I last watched an Azkals game live at the Rizal Memorial Stadium so maybe my witnessing and hearing the chants and the cheers for the first time was the reason I had goosebumps. It wasn’t that long ago when the Philippine crowd still didn’t have those songs in place and only a truly organized group could have progressed that fast. Whether it’s the workings of Ultras Pilipinas or the Kaholeros, the cheers are extremely catchy and fit the football atmosphere perfectly. We can’t wait to master these pieces by heart and fill up an entire stadium. The loyalty of the fans has never faltered. It’s only a matter of time ‘til their numbers multiply as loud as their echoing chants have.