Destiny Awaits - Philippines in AFC Challenge Cup

After a convincing 2-nil victory over the 2011 South Asian champions and 2008 AFC Challenge Cup champions India, the Philippine Men's National Football Team, the Azkals, have kept their hopes for reaching the semis alive.

Following a defeat to North Korea, the Azkals needed to win against India. This they were able to do without too much trouble. India had its moments, but one can reasonable say that the Philippines were more or less in control of that match. The changes made by Coach Weiss in the midfield paid off, and Phil Younghusband put away two of his chances. The first goal was shades of the goal against Malaysia on the 29 February. That long throw-in by Sabio has provided an added dimension to our offensive options. All in all, it was a pretty good and exciting match, with the victory making it that much sweeter.

The victory has set up a "winner take all" match against previous AFC Challenge Cup champion (2006) Tajikistan. An interesting development is that because of the respective score lines of both teams in their respective matches with the other teams in this group of death, a draw would result to a penalty shootout. 

Destiny awaits the Philippine Azkals. Their fate in this tournament, and a shot at another historic milestone and achievement, is within their grasp and fully in their own hands. 

Aside from providing the Azkals an opportunity of getting to the semis, the victory over India also brings renewed confidence to the team and the players. The victory and the opportunity for further glory is a good boost to team morale and the players will be raring to take on Tajikistan. The last time the Philippines and Tajikistan tangled it ended in a draw. This is a very different Philippine team now, and while the Tajiks shouldn't be taken lightly, the Azkals have a pretty good chance to pull off an upset here.

It gets tempting to get carried away now that we see that we have a foot by the door (the Tajiks too, by the way), but I believe there is cause for optimism. There is a bit more composure in the way the Azkals have been playing lately, and the defense has been proving solid. As the underdogs in this tournament, such improvements in those particular areas have become very vital to their current progress in this tournament. Conservative, smart and focus should be the buzzwords in this upcoming match. We cannot discount of course the burden and pressure of expectation, now that destiny is just around the corner. They cannot afford to be anxious and nervous about this match. They should approach this match with the attitude that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose.  In my opinion, the mental aspect of football will be the determining factor in this upcoming match. Though by the looks of the team, from their training matches in the Middle East, the friendly against Malaysia and their first two matches in this tournament, it appears they have what it takes to stay focused on the task at hand and effectively deal with the pressure of the occasion. 

Photo via goal.com

Another cause for optimism is Coach Weiss. He has taken a more pragmatic and conservative approach to matches. The team is now more organized and compact, resulting to more stability at the back. Quite a change from the swashbuckling offensive game the Coach was initially trying to develop for the team. That worked against teams of lesser quality, but definitely not against that way ahead of us in terms of ability and team chemistry. This new approach and emphasis in our playing style has obviously served the team well so far in this tournament. Additionally, Coach Weiss has also been utilizing his subs more. He has previously been taken to task to use subs sparingly. He may have his reasons then, but lately we've seen that he has been making use of the bench more effectively. 

So there we have it. The Philippines is on the edge of achieving another footballing milestone. Destiny awaits! It is there for the taking and the chances of doing so look promising. As we all dwell on this and what this all means, let us also not forget to consider how far this team and Philippine football has come in so short a time. 

2012 March, Moira G Gallaga©

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