Asian football

PH men’s football coach apologizes for 0-5 Iraq burial, stays optimistic in World Cup qualifiers

Juro Morilla

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PH men’s football coach apologizes for 0-5 Iraq burial, stays optimistic in World Cup qualifiers

DEJECTED. Philippine men's football team head coach Tom Saintfiet reacts in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers

Philippine Football Federation

Despite absorbing a 0-5 battering versus Iraq, new Philippine men's football coach Tom Saintfiet says he saw a lot of positives with how the team played in home soil

MANILA, Philippines – It was the biggest defeat of Tom Saintfiet’s coaching career, but he wanted to focus on the positives from the match as he remained optimistic moving forward.

“I’m very disappointed, but I’m also very sorry,” said Saintfiet after the Philippine men’s football team succumbed to a 5-0 hammering versus Iraq in the second round of the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 preliminary joint qualifiers on Tuesday, March 26, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

“My apologies to the 10,000 fans who were in the stadium, but also to people who were watching at home and my apologies for the big defeat, and also my thanks for the big support from the fan side.”

Saintfiet added that he did at least see a lot of positives with more created chances from his side and more ball possessions.

“I saw a lot of good players, Santi [Rublico] is one of them, but also later Pocholo [Bugas], and Mark Swainston coming very good in,” he continued.

“I think it’s very good that our home grown players or local based players play in the local league like Swainston and Gayoso, who played, also in my eyes again a very good game.”

Coming off an impressive match in Iraq, the Philippines shined early in the match as they matched the intensity of the favored visitors, however, a questionable penalty call killed off the momentum of the Filipinos.

The scoring festivities was started early by Aymen Hussein after he converted a penalty kick at the 14th minute to give Iraq a quick 1-0 advantage.

The given spot kick was absolutely debatable since it was Ali Jasim Elaibi’s right foot that made Paul Tabinas trip – which gave the former an opportunity to also fall down inside the box after the minor collision.

Despite the heavy protests of the Filipinos, referee Muhammad Nazmi Nasaruddin decided to still award the penalty kick to the visitors as it effectively halted the momentum of the Philippines, who was backed by an active home crowd.

Amir Fouad, via a powerful left-footed shot, doubled the visitors’ lead at the 31st minute as he reacted quickest to rebound Ali Jasim Elaibi’s initial attempt – which was blocked by the Philippines defense.

Hussein completed his brace at the 37-minute mark with a well-placed bottom right corner shot after he beat the Philippines’ offside trap and chased down the lobbed through ball that came from Iraq’s backline.

Iraq’s fourth goal of the match came from Zidane Aamar Iqbal as he volleyed in a powerful left-footed shot inside the penalty box at the 62’ mark.

A towering header from Zaid Tahseen Hantoosh was registered at the 78th minute as Iraq completed the rout with a huge 5-0 statement win.

FIFA World Cup dreams in jeopardy

The latest loss of the Philippines now puts their World Cup dreams in jeopardy as they remain stuck in the bottom of Group F with 1 point and a -8 goal difference, while Iraq remains in first place with 12 points and a massive +11 goal difference.

Indonesia currently occupies second place with 7 points and a flat 0 goal difference, while Vietnam is slightly ahead of the Philippines with 3 points and a -3 goal difference.

Only the top two teams in each group will advance to the third round of the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers and receive an automatic berth in the AFC Asian Cup 2027.

Meanwhile, the third- and fourth-placed teams will lose their qualification for the FIFA World Cup 2026, but will remain in the hunt for a slot in the AFC Asian Cup 2027.

“As long as we have hope, as long as we are alive, we are not dead,” declared Saintfiet as he looked ahead to the final window of the second round qualifiers on June.

It was a heartbreaking loss for the world No. 139 Filipinos following an impressive showing in the away leg as their compact defense kept the Iraqis quiet for the majority of the match.

A similar performance was needed in the reverse leg for the Philippines to pull off an upset, but the heavily favored Iraqis came into the Rizal Memorial Stadium unfazed as they were relentless on both ends of the pitch and were clinical on goal.

Santiago Rublico was the closest Filipino to enter the scoresheet, but his 41st minute attempt rifled over the bar.

Numerous substitutions in the second half were made by Philippines head coach Tom Saintfiet, however, Iraq continued to dominate the ball and limit the Filipinos’ chances en route to keeping another clean sheet. –

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