Azkals fans still looking up despite loss to Vietnam in Suzuki Cup

December 7, 2018 - 11:03 AM
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The Philippine Men's National Football Team fell 4-2 on aggregate against favorites Vietnam in the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finals. (Suzukicup.com/release)

The faithful fans of the Philippine Men’s National Football team still believe in the country’s bright future in football despite a 2-1 loss in the second leg of the Azkals’ 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finals bout with Vietnam.

The Azkals needed at least a 2-0 to win via aggregate but exerting to goal. Vietnam likewise struggled to find the opposing box throughout the match and only managed to score in the 83rd minute when Nguyen Quang Hai broke free to nod the ball into the net.

This was followed by another goal from Nguyen Cong Phuong in the 87th minute when struck from the flanks.

The Philippines’ James Younghusband managed to score in the 89th minute but the point came too late and the Vietnamese walked away with the 4-2 aggregate victory.

Vietnam will advance to face Malaysia in the finals. The Southeast Asian nation’s national team currently holds the longest active unbeaten streak in world football with 14 straight matches without a loss, dating back from December 2016.

This marks the third time since 2010 the Philippines made the semi-finals in the AFF Cup only to be eliminated. Despite another loss, fans believe the program is still on the right path.

Azkals legend Chieffy Caligdong expressed his gratitude and satisfaction with the team in a tweet.

Hopeful even without miracles

Due to the favorite Vietnam’s formidable form and their 2-1 victory in the first leg of the semi-final bout, many Filipino fans hoped for a repeat of 2010’s “Miracle of Hanoi,” when the Azkals, then hardly considered a threat, beat the reigning AFF champions Vietnam 2-0 in the group stage to book a slot in the semi-finals.

The team just a few years prior to the “miracle” of 2010 had slumped both in performance and reputation, seeded 195th on the FIFA World Rankings 2006.

Although it was the team’s only win, it ushered in a new era for Philippine football. The team made the semi-finals once more in 2012, 2014 and 2018. In 2012, the Azkals won their first World Cup qualification match over Sri Lanka 4-0.

Aside from renewing faith in the country’s football program, the Azkal’s moment of brilliance in 2010 also repaired its reputation with fans. Two groups of hardcore fans, the Kaholeros and the Ultras Filipinas, were formed to cheer for the team at games home and abroad.

The Azkals in May 2018 climbed to 111th in the FIFA world rankings, its highest-ever position. It received another boost when veteran World Cup and top flight manager Sven-Goran Eriksson signed up to coach the team for a six-month period in October that same year.

The team will now be setting its sights on the 2019 AFC Asian Cup which starts in January 2019.