The Philippine Azkals bows out of the 2018 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup as the tournament draws to a close.
It’s been a thrilling and inspiring journey, indeed. The Philippine national team has been participating in the AFF Championship since 1996. And over the years, they have progressed from the group stage to the semi-finals.
The Azkal’s proudest claim to fame was the so-called “Miracle of Hanoi,” where they beat defending champions Vietnam 2-0 at the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup. Despite a fueled desire for the finals, the team has yet to taste the sweetness of the elusive championship. “We’ve come a long way since Vietnam [during the Miracle of Hanoi],” says team captain Phil Younghusband. “There were some wins, some losses, but we’ve pushed through and worked hard to be successful and to draw more fans to Philippine football.”
The recently concluded 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup was held from November 8 to December 15, 2018. Group A consisted of Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Vietnam. The Philippines was placed in Group B with Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Singapore, and defending champions Thailand.
During the group stage, the Philippines started strong, beating Singapore 1-0, last November 13, at the Pana-ad Stadium in Bacolod. It was German-born Filipino Patrick Alcala Reichelt who scored the goal. The Azkals went on for another win against Timor-Leste, 3-2, at an away game in Kuala Lumpur Stadium, Malaysia. Top scorer P. Younghusband, Swiss-Filipino Martin Steuble, and Spanish-Filipino Carlos de Murga scored the three critical goals. Returning to Pana-ad Stadium, the Azkals tied with Thailand, 1-1, where proud Iloilo-native Jovin Bedic made a stunning point against the defending champs. Before graduating from the group stage, the Azkals once more dealt a draw with Indonesia at an away game in Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Jakarta.
At the 2018 AFF Championship knockout stage, where the two teams from each group advance to compete in a single-elimination tournament, the Philippines competed against Group A’s Vietnam. During the first leg in a home game in Bacolod, the Azkals faced off against Vietnam but lost with a score of 1-2. Right-winger Reichelt again managed to score the goal. “Losing in the finals can be really heartbreaking; but we are always progressing as a team,” James Younghusband shares.
During the second leg, the team traveled to Mỹ Đình National Stadium in Hanoi to square off once again against Vietnam. Driven and required to produce twice the number of goals against their opponent, the Azkals battled it out in a long drawn-out deadlock against Vietnam. But during the last 10 minutes of the game, Vietnam scored two goals ensuring their seat at the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup Championship Finals. The Philippines nevertheless did not concede, managing one goal thanks to midfielder J. Younghusband, but it wasn’t enough to make them advance to the finals stage.
Finishing as semi-finalists for the fourth time, after 2010, 2012, and 2014, the Azkals continue to persevere and inspire. As they gain more experience on the field, so do they become better players. “Most of all, I enjoy being part of the group and being part of this team. We have amazing talents and you can expect greater things from us in the future,” P. Younghusband says.
Despite the loss, the Philippine Azkals have set their eyes on a new goal, gearing up for the 2019 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup. “Winning makes it more realistic when you’re trying to chase something, when you’re trying to build something. But first, we have to show our achievements in Southeast Asia before showing the world what we’ve got,” J. Younghusband says.
The Philippine national team looks on to the future, growing stronger together and drawing more attention to Philippine football. As the Azkals continue to chase their dream of football glory, they continue to inspire Filipinos with their drive and passion. “We’ve had our hardships, we’ve had our struggles.
But together, we can show everyone what we can do as a team and as a country,” P. Younghusband ends.