PH football coach Saintfiet sees ‘Surprise in Manila’
DESPITE LOSS TO IRAQ

PH football coach Saintfiet sees ‘Surprise in Manila’ happening

/ 05:20 AM March 23, 2024

Neil Etheridge

PH men’s football team Neil Etheridge (right) is consoled by a PH team staff after the 1-0 loss to Iran. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Coach Tom Saintfiet offered some silver linings on the defeat the Philippine men’s football team absorbed at the hands of Iraq in the World Cup/Asian Qualifiers match on Thursday.

For Saintfiet, the team formerly known as the Azkals almost achieved what it wanted in Basra, so close that it needed a late goal from Iraq to come away with a 1-0 win.

“I’m not happy with the loss because I hate losing,” said Saintfiet. “But I’m very proud of the performance of my team. I knew that we would play against a strong team.”

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READ: Saintfiet harps: PH football team ready to compete against Iraq

Mohanad Ali produced the eventual winner for the Iraqis in the 84th minute, a moment that the hosts were able to get after being frustrated with a resolute Philippine defense, including some saves from veteran goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.

Etheridge and the Philippines’ hopes of a tie ended when Ali pounced on a long ball and beat two defenders before scoring the only goal at Basra International Stadium.

“I think the Philippines can compete and the goal was to try a point. Like I said, my team did very well but one moment of lack of concentration and the opposing team utilized it,” the Belgian coach said.

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READ: PH men’s football team drops close loss to Iraq in World Cup qualifiers

“The Iraqi team, for most of the time, had no solution against the tactical discipline of the Philippines. We analyzed Iraq. We knew the qualities of Iraq, the wingbacks and the wings. We tried to close the errors and it was clear that for most of the time, Iraq had no answer, but they won so in the end, they did everything right.”

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Taking pride

Saintfiet, however, can take pride in how the Philippines conducted itself, given the challenges leading up to the match.

“We started three days ago, I saw my players for the first time. Some on Monday and some on Tuesday. The progress is very good.”

But there’ll be no excuses the next time when the Philippines takes on Iraq anew, this time in the friendly confines of Rizal Memorial Stadium.

The loss kept the Philippines below Group F with just one point in three matches. To reach the next round of the World Cup Qualifiers, the Filipino side must win its next three matches, the others being against Indonesia and Vietnam on the road in the next window.

Iraq is still the group leader with nine points, followed by Indonesia with four points and Vietnam with three.

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“I think we need to be competitive with Vietnam and Indonesia and I’m impressed with my players that in a short period of time, we could be difficult opponents for Iraq,” said Saintfiet. “But in five days’ time, we will play again and we need to be fresh. Hopefully, we get to surprise Iraq in Manila.”

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