Azkals tackle Tajiks
It’s a match that could define an era in Philippine football.
For the Azkals, there’s no bigger match since they pulled off the “Miracle in Hanoi” eight years ago.
For the sport in the country, the result could provide the direction for the next few years.
With qualification from the prestigious AFC Asian Cup next year at stake, the Azkals look to complete the mission they started impressively last year when they go up against Tajikistan for the final Group F match at Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. with the Azkals needing just a draw to secure qualification in the continental showpiece event which features powerhouse Asian sides like Korea, Japan, Australia and Iran.
A defeat will not only seal Tajikistan’s entry to the tournament, but also put the Azkals’ fate in the hands of winless Nepal, which faces Yemen in the other game.
A win by Yemen against Nepal and an Azkals loss will doom the Filipinos’ qualification hopes.
The Tajiks also consider the match as their most important yet as they have yet to qualify for the Asian Cup. But they will be up against a relaxed and confident Philippine side, which beat them, 4-3, in their initial meeting at Pamir Stadium in Dushanbe.
Interestingly, that was the last win posted by the Azkals in the qualifying round as a run of three straight draws have put them in a tricky position heading into the final matchday.
“It gives us confidence knowing that we have a good result against Tajikistan before,” said skipper Phil Younghusband, who will be looking to add to his 49 international goals. “What could be added pressure is that we’ve had two opportunities to qualify and we haven’t gotten any.”
The Azkals drew with Yemen twice and bungled a chance to qualify ahead of everyone else in the group when they were held to a goalless standoff by Nepal in Kathmandu.
“There are other things that put doubt in your head but there are also other things that give you confidence knowing we’ve beaten this team,” said Younghusband.
Azkals manager Dan Palami said they’re trying to downplay the implications of the match as they’d rather have the players focused on getting a result against the Central Asians.
“We’re telling everyone in the team that we just have to focus on this game and not worry about the consequence,” said Palami. “Of course, we’ve been through many heartaches and many joys, but I think this is our most important match since the Miracle in Hanoi.”