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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals opened their FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 Preliminary Joint Qualifiers on a sour note as they fell to Vietnam, 2-0, on Thursday, November 16, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Vietnam’s Nguyen Van Toan quickly broke the deadlock as he slotted in a left-footed shot past Philippine veteran goalkeeper Neil Etheridge in the 16th minute.
Substitute Nguyen Dinh Bac also scored a late goal four minutes into added time as he sealed Vietnam’s victory over the Philippines.
The opening victory of the Vietnamese gave them 3 points and a +2 goal difference to temporarily claim the top spot in Group F, while the Azkals tumbled to the bottom of the group with 0 points and a -2 goal difference.
Iraq and Indonesia will close out the first match day in Group F with a kick off scheduled at 10:30 pm.
After almost a monthlong campaign of #StandYourGround and #10KStrong for local fans to support the Azkals in this international window, the Philippine Football Federation managed to accomplish its target of selling out the tickets and filling the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium.
It was a successful initiative as fans of both teams flocked to the venue to cheer while giving all ticket holders permission to visit the Fan Zone Mess Hall, an area outside the stadium where they can purchase food, drinks, replica kits, and participate in mini games.
The atmosphere inside and outside the stadium was electric, but world No. 94 Vietnam was absolutely unfazed as it matched the intensity of the upset-seeking Azkals, ranked 144th in the latest FIFA men’s world rankings.
Following their opening goal, the Vietnamese attempted two long-range shots to try and double their lead, but the efforts of Pham Tuan Hai and Van Toan just resulted in a couple of goal kicks as both shots were off-target.
The Azkals went into the break facing a 1-0 deficit, but five minutes before the halftime whistle, Vietnam team captain Nguyen Tuan Anh fired up the home crowd after he clattered Azkals midfielder Manuel Ott and escaped without a card.
A quick halftime break seemingly revitalized the Azkals as they earned a couple of corner kicks, while Mike Ott tested the Vietnam goalie from long-range in an attempt to grab an equalizer.
Etheridge had two brilliant saves to prevent Vietnam from doubling their lead early in the second half, but on the other side of the pitch, the Azkals still couldn’t break the sturdy Vietnam defense.
In an effort to change the trajectory of the match, Azkals head coach Hans Michael Weiss inserted in veterans Stephan Schröck and Bienvenido Marañon for Jose Elmer Porteria and Justin Baas, respectively, at the 67th minute.
A few minutes later, Pocholo Bugas replaced Mike Ott, while Vietnam responded by taking out forward Pham Tuan Hai for midfielder Nguyen Dinh Bac.
The changes made by Weiss almost gave birth to a goal as Schröck made a pass to Santiago Rublico, but the latter’s shot attempt just barely missed the goal.
Unfortunately for the Philippines, Vietnam added another goal at the end and defeated the Azkals for an opening-day away win.
The Azkals will look to bounce back in their second match as they face Indonesia next on Tuesday, November 21, 7 pm, at the same venue. – Rappler.com