The Philippines football team’s captain said on Wednesday he hoped their historic first-ever qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup could be a catalyst for growth of the sport in the basketball-mad nation.
Nicknamed the Azkals – slang for mongrel dogs – the Philippines secured their berth in next January’s 24-team event in the UAE with a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Tajikistan in Manila in an emotional game on Tuesday night.
“When there’s success in any sport people would talk about it and the most we can do is bring football as much success,” Azkals captain Phil Younghusband, a former Chelsea youth player, told AFP.
“Hopefully this will be the catalyst for the growth of Philippine football,” he added. “Maybe the lack of success in the last eight years has slowed down the growth.”
The Philippines had been a bit-player on the Asian stage but turned heads by reaching the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finals.
The victory sparked interest in football in the Philippines, a nation that treats basketball almost as a religion.
— CNN Philippines (@cnnphilippines) March 28, 2018
Tuesday’s game began with a goalless opening half but Kevin Ingreso later headed home to level for the Azkals who then made sure of their place in next year’s tournament with a last-minute penalty that was converted by Younghusband.
It happened to be the 50th international goal of Younghusband.
“It was so emotional because of the way the game went. It’s the happiest football moment so far in my professional career,” he said.
“All I was thinking about is we qualified for the Asian Cup. Anything else is a bonus.”
Elsewhere on a frenetic final day of qualifying, North Korea and war-torn Yemen rounded off the qualification spots.
The latter beat Nepal 2-1 and edged Tajikistan on goal difference in Group F.
North Korea secured their third-consecutive appearance in the Asian Cup after a convincing 2-0 home victory over Hong Kong to finish as runners-up in Group B behind Lebanon.
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