‘Outstanding’ crowd gives Azkals major boost vs Tajiks
It’s not everyday that history unfolds before our eyes.
But for the 4,600 fans, who trooped inside the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Tuesday, they bore witness to Philippine football reaching new heights after the Azkals beat Tajikistan, 2-1, to advance to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup for the first time ever.
“I think we made history today for Philippine football,” said midfielder Kevin Ingreso. “Everyone here, in the pitch, around the pitch, together all Filipinos. I can’t describe my feelings right now. I think it takes a few weeks to let it sink, to believe what we achieved. But we totally deserve the win today for the way we fought.”
But the historic night wouldn’t have been possible if not for the raucous crowd.
After Nazarov Akhtam put the visitors up, 1-0, in the 62nd minute, the air was seemingly sucked out of the venue as the Azkals were put in a precarious situation.
The crowd, however, gave the Azkals a much needed lift they needed, cheering for every tackle, every shot, and every chance the home squad got throughout the match.
“When we were down 0-1, they pushed us forward and it was a big factor,” admitted Ingreso, who committed a costly foul inside the box that led to the Tajik penalty goal.
He did atone for that blunder, catching a perfectly timed cross from Iain Ramsay and scoring the header in the 73rd minute to tie the score up at one goal apiece.
“I want to thank every single one who was in the stands today. We have to be thankful. The crowd was outstanding today and they really pushed us forward,” said Ingreso.
“Just looking up when were 1-nil down and they’re cheering us for every tackle, every header, every shot, that was the difference for us coming back,” Phil Younghusband said.
But an audience as rabid as Filipinos deserved more than just a draw, and a chance was given after Nazarov was called for a handball in the 90th minute, giving the Azkals a chance to win the match.
Younghusband delivered the penalty kick and bagged his 50th international goal that triggered the bedlam.
“All the players are so appreciative of everyone who watched and supported, even the ones at home, especially who came to the Grandstand. They gave us the push and gave us the added confidence to come back,” he said.
It was a monumental win and the players know that it’s just the beginning.
“Hopefully, I want us to be the Iceland in the Asian Cup,” said team manager Dan Palami as he hopes that the Philippines draw inspiration from Iceland’s recent accomplishments punctuated by a berth in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“We’ll not just be there to participate. We’re going there to compete, fully prepared, and we want to make sure that we make an impact in the Asian stage,” he said.
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