For a time, it seemed as if the only sports that Filipino athletes can excel in and catch the attention of the world were in solo competitor events like boxing; the legendary Manny Pacquiao comes to mind. However, when the men’s national football team, called the Azkals, suddenly showed a strong performance in the 2010 AFF Championship, they suddenly became both strong tournament contenders and celebrities, paving the way for more Filipino sports teams to play strongly on international competitions. As for the Azkals, they finally made their debut on the major AFC Asian Cup this year, even if their first match ended in defeat.
CNN Philippines reports that the Philippine Men’s National Football Team, aka the Azkals, finally made an appearance of the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in their competitive history. It was the first new top-tier football tournament the Azkals have been qualified to participate in, even if it came in the wake of their recent failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Their very first game on the 2019 AFC Asian Cup was against South Korea, and although they fought with a tenacity befitting their nickname, they lost the match.
On the game which took place Monday, January 8, at Dubai’s Maktoum Stadium, the Philippine Azkals faced off against a Korean team that they are well-aware to be a scoring powerhouse. In the first half the Filipinos were hard pressed to defend their side of the pitch from the constantly attacking Koreans, with the latter having a disproportionate possession percentage. Nevertheless, the Azkals held the line to a scoreless halftime.
Come the second half however, South Korea eventually lucked out with Hwang Ui-Jo in minute 67, letting in what would be the game’s only point. Team Azkals rallied to an intensified attack against the Korean goal, but their opponents were buoyed by their point and put up a solid defense, killing any hopes of an equalizer for overtime or penalty shootout for the Philippines. It was a sobering conclusion to the Azkals’ AFC Asian Cup debut, but the tournament is far from over. South Korean is due to face Kyrgyzstan on the same day that the Filipinos must play China. It is still a long and difficult road ahead, but the Azkals will persevere in their coming games of their first AFC Asian Cup appearance.
Image from Fox Sports Asia