Philippine football

‘Still in the war’: PH men’s football eyes more ‘options’ in next qualifiers

Juro Morilla

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‘Still in the war’: PH men’s football eyes more ‘options’ in next qualifiers

ALL OUT. Jarvey Gayoso of the Philippine men's football team in action against Iraq.


After absorbing a heavy whipping against Iraq, the Philippine men’s football team looks to recalibrate with ‘several options more’ for the next window of the joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers

MANILA, Philippines – After a home match where the Philippine men’s football team got totally demolished by Iraq, new head coach Tom Saintfiet plans to do another roster shakeup. 

Saintfiet pointed out that they are “still in the war” even after a 5-0 whipping last Tuesday, March 26, as the Philippines holds a slim chance of advancing to the next round of the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 joint qualifiers. 

“We got an uppercut, we are very down, I’m frustrated, I can tell you that,” said Saintfiet. “But it doesn’t bring anything to stay in your frustration. You have to use the weaknesses and strengths to grow as a team, as a person, as everyone in [the next qualifiers in] June. We have to be ready for the next two battles.”

The home loss was a stark contrast to the 139th-ranked Filipinos’ fighting form in a 1-0 loss to host Iraq last Friday, March 22, in Basra.

With the next qualifying window just three months away, Saintfiet shared he is in contact with numerous eligible players to come and play for the rejigged national team. 

“We also had contact, in the last months, with a lot of foreign-based, foreign-born players who play on very high level,” said Saintfiet, noting potential recruits from leagues in the United States, Norway, Sweden, and Belgium. 

“We have already the confirmation of six of these players that they are ready to play in June for us,” he said. 

“The passports are issued, so within two months, I expect that I have several options more – the guys who I mentioned now, who are playing abroad, but also the guys within the [local] league.”

“I saw the guys from Kaya [FC-Iloilo], and I saw Manila Diggers,” added  Saintfiet. “And I saw some games in preseason in Taguig, but I didn’t see all the games, but I like to see all teams play because every Filipino player has the opportunity to play.”

Before the next qualifiers, the 50-year-old Saintfiet said he plans to hold a national team training camp in May, possibly in Dubai, and organize friendly matches if feasible.

“We will analyze the performance in training and in both matches of the players [against Iraq] who are now in camp,” said Saintfiet.

“And then we will make the right decision which ones will be on board for the future – it’s connected to the performance, but also to the age because we’re building a team for the future.” 

The Philippines currently sits dead last in a four-team Group F with 1 point and a -8 goal difference. Only the top two teams in each group will advance to the third round of the joint qualifiers.

Teams advancing to the third round of the joint qualifiers will claim an automatic berth in the AFC Asian Cup 2027, and from there, the 18 remaining teams will be divided into three groups of six as they battle it out for a direct qualification for the FIFA World Cup 2026.

Absorb the lessons, stay positive

Philippine team captain Neil Etheridge admitted the 5-0 loss to world No. 59 Iraq will serve as a “learning curve” for the squad as they move on to the crucial clashes against Vietnam and Indonesia.

“I do think that we will move forward and learn from the mistakes that we made… and we’ve shown that the heart and spirit we gave over in Iraq that we have it, it needs to come out more often,” said the 34-year-old goalkeeper.

“I believe in this group and I think we have to come out fighting strategically, not just stupidly.”

Jarvey Gayoso felt the team “could’ve done more” in their home game against Iraq despite having a massive gap based on the official FIFA world rankings.

“Given the outcome, we always wanted to do more, so we take a lot of lessons from this and just move forward, we continue to stay positive,” said the 27-year-old forward.

The former Ateneo standout thanked the fans as well for the support and encouraged them to remain optimistic as the national team moves on to the next window under the new management

“I hope you all stay positive as well ‘cause we’re looking positive and we’re looking to be a more competitive team especially when it comes to the next two away games,” said Gayoso. –

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