Philippine football

Saintfiet eyes draws vs Iraq as PH men’s football team resumes World Cup, Asian Cup qualifying bid

Delfin Dioquino

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Saintfiet eyes draws vs Iraq as PH men’s football team resumes World Cup, Asian Cup qualifying bid

NEW MENTOR. Head coach Tom Saintfiet of the Philippine men's football team.

Philippine Football Federation Facebook page

New Philippine men's football team head coach Tom Saintfiet hopes to guide his side to a pair of favorable results against highly favored Iraq in the second round of the joint qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup

MANILA, Philippines – Tom Saintfiet took on the job to coach the Philippine men’s football team in search for an “ambitious task to write history somewhere.”

That desire will be put to the test as Saintfiet hopes to guide the Filipinos to a pair of favorable results against Iraq when the second round of the joint qualifiers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup resume.

Ranked 133rd in the world, the Philippines faces a gargantuan task against No. 68 Iraq, which it will battle on the road at the Basra International Stadium on March 21 and at home at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum on March 26.

The set of home-and-away games against the Iraqis will mark the first time that the Belgian mentor – who boasts of an extensive run coaching for multiple African countries – will call the shots for the Philippines.

“I think that will be for sure the most difficult match. Iraq is a powerhouse in Asian football. I think personally Iraq will go to the World Cup,” said Saintfiet on Friday, March 1, after wrapping up a national team training session.

“The game is not lost before you play it. We will need motivated guys who are ready to play disciplined.”

Iraq, the seventh-highest ranked team in Asia, is poised to reach the third round of the qualifiers as it owns the top spot in Group F with 6 points, being the only unbeaten team in the bunch which includes Indonesia and Vietnam.

A pair of wins against the Philippines will further boost the Iraqis’ bid of inching closer to a World Cup return since their maiden appearance in 1986.

Taking its 5-1 romp of Indonesia and 1-0 win over Vietnam into consideration, the Arabian Gulf Cup champions is a clear-cut favorite against the Philippines.

But Saintfiet aims to surprise as the Philippines (1 point, -2 goal difference), which sits third in Group F behind Vietnam (3 points, +1 goal difference) and ahead of Indonesia (1 point, -4 goal difference), looks to stay in the mix.

The Philippines opened the second round in November with a 0-2 loss to Vietnam and a 1-1 draw with Indonesia.

After playing against each other twice, only the top two teams from each of the nine groups will advance to the third round.

“If you could play a draw in Iraq, that would be fantastic. After that, we will see what we can do here. I would prefer to win both, but I’m dreaming too much, then I wake up,” said Saintfiet.

“Let’s go for a good zero-zero and I will be very happy with that,” Saintfiet added. “If we could win one, that would be amazing. But let’s not dream too much, let’s work.”

Saintfiet and the team will hold a weeklong training camp in Dubai before they fly to Iraq for the first of their two matches against the former Asian Cup titlists. –

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Delfin Dioquino

Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.