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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals won’t see action in next year’s AFC Asian Cup following a second-place finish in Group B of the qualifying phase.
A massive 4-0 loss versus 100th-ranked Palestine on the final match day of Group B essentially turned out to be the knockout blow for the Azkals as they had to rely on the results of the other teams just to advance to Asia’s prestigious quadrennial tournament.
The world No. 133 Azkals also produced a scoreless draw against Yemen in their first game, then snatched a 1-0 victory over Group B host Mongolia to accumulate 4 points and a +1 goal difference heading into their crucial clash with the group-leading Palestinians.
Palestine, the team that denied the Philippines a spot in the Asian Cup 2014, showed its mastery over the Azkals once again as it cruised to a lopsided blanking and claimed the top seed in Group B.
After the heartbreaking loss, Azkals defender Kenshiro Daniels admitted “the difference in quality was there,” while head coach Thomas Dooley said the team showed “too much respect” to the higher-ranked side.
“Palestine is a great team, a good team,” said the 61-year-old mentor. “They are very strong and I said that before too that whoever thinks we’ll have an easy game against Palestine is wrong, he doesn’t know anything about football.”
The Palestinians completed their campaign with an unblemished record of three wins alongside an impressive three clean sheets.
As the defeat left the Philippines in an uncertain position on Tuesday, the Azkals had to wait for the results of several teams beginning with Yemen in Group B.
Aside from the group topnotchers, only five of the best group runners-up were guaranteed slots to next year’s Asian Cup.
Yemen had a point and a -5 goal difference going into its closing game against Mongolia, but the Yemeni eventually missed the opportunity to overtake the Filipinos in Group B as the Mongolians concluded their qualifying campaign on a high note with a 2-0 victory courtesy of a brace from Ganbayar Ganbold.
It opened the door for the Azkals to stay in the hunt for a ticket to the 18th edition of the quadrennial tournament.
Turkmenistan was the next team the Philippines had to monitor, and luckily for the Azkals, the Turkmen succumbed to Group E winners Bahrain.
Malaysia then capitalized on the fall of Turkmenistan, claiming an Asian Cup seat by finishing second in Group E after a 4-1 triumph over Bangladesh.
With one spot left, the Azkals were hoping for both Kuwait and Indonesia to lose in Group A, but Indonesia generated a massive 7-0 beating of Nepal which ultimately sealed the fate of the Philippines.
Jordan, Indonesia, Palestine, Uzbekistan, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Malaysia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyz Republic will now join Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, and Lebanon to make up the 24 participating teams in the Asian Cup 2023.
As for the Philippines, the Azkals must reevaluate their plans moving forward and look for better stability.
Should the team opt to stick with Dooley for the long run, it would give him more time to prepare for a tournament and implement his game plan well.
Integrating more youth players to learn from the veterans is also an avenue that the team can explore to strengthen its bid for a second Asian Cup appearance in 2027. – Rappler.com
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