Asian football

Saintfiet confident, hopes for ‘miracle’ as PH men’s football team hosts Iraq

Juro Morilla

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Saintfiet confident, hopes for ‘miracle’ as PH men’s football team hosts Iraq

SQUAD. The Philippine men's football team in action against Iraq in the 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup joint qualifiers.

Philippine Football Federation

Hoping to take advantage of playing at home, the Philippine men's football team targets a breakthrough win in the joint qualifiers of the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup as it battles favored Iraq

MANILA, Philippines – Head coach Tom Saintfiet expressed confidence that the Philippine men’s football team is capable of pulling off another terrific performance against Iraq in the second leg of their back-to-back matches in the second round of the 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup joint qualifiers.

Losing by just a point to the heavily favored Iraqis on the road last March 22, 1-0, the Filipinos host the Lions of Mesopotamia at the Rizal Memorial Stadium at 7 pm on Tuesday, March 26, with hopes of pulling off a giant upset.

“I saw a fantastic, committed, disciplined team with a lot of potential, knowing that we had very limited time to work together,” said Saintfiet, who has only been with the team for a month.

“We are confident that we will have a good performance and we hope this time, it will be enough to get also some points.”

Saintfiet admitted it would be a tall order for his wards to clinch a win worth 3 points in the standings against Iraq, which sits on top of Group F with 9 points after winning all of its first three matches.

“I sure hope that we can at least win minimal of a point and hopefully it’ll be a miracle to win three points,” said the Belgian tactician.

“[I]t’s not always easy to compete with them and Iraq is one of the strongest in the region, but you never know.”

Coaching in his first-ever competitive match in the Philippines, Saintfiet pointed out the importance of having the home crowd back the team up as the Filipinos shoot for a breakthrough win.

“It will always be an advantage, it’s our ground, players are used to play on the pitch, it’s our climate, players are used to playing in the climate, and it’s our crowd who will cheer for us and hopefully the stands are all in blue – we will play in blue – so come all in blue,” said Saintfiet.

Defender Amani Aguinaldo said having fans on their side will be crucial for the Philippines’ homestand.

“As much as possible, we want to keep a clean sheet and hope for the best against Iraq ‘cause now it’s a different game, we’re not playing against their team and 65,000 fans, we’re playing at home with our fans,” said Aguinaldo.

Heading into their fourth match in the second round of the joint qualifiers, the Filipinos still have a shot at gaining outright qualification to the next round by finishing second in Group F, which also includes Indonesia and Vietnam.

World No. 139 Philippines is currently at the bottom of the group with 1 point and a -3 goal difference, but an upset victory over Iraq will push its tally to 4 points and improve its negative goal difference. 

Indonesia occupies second place in Group F with 4 points and a -3 goal difference, while Vietnam is third with 3 points and a flat 0 goal difference. 

World No. 59 Iraq leads all four teams with 9 points and a +6 goal difference.

“The Philippines did a great job in the last match and the [Rizal Memorial Stadium] grass is artificial and it’s a question to worry us, but I hope my team will be in a great level to win this match,” said Iraq head coach Jesus Casas Garcia. –

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