The Philippine Men’s National Football Team, better known as the Azkals, can be credited for making association football, aka soccer, a favorite sport among Filipinos again, almost as important as basketball even. This stems from their “Miracle in Hanoi” match against Vietnam in 2010 during the AFF Suzuki Cup, the tournament that marked a turnaround in the team’s performance from the middling returns that came before. In the years that followed the Azkals has been a constant presence in tournaments even if they never qualified for the FIFA World Cup. That might finally change in their latest campaign for Qatar 2022, now that their qualifier bracket placement has been revealed.
CNN Philippines reports that the Philippine Azkals football team has been officially grouped in the Asian Qualifiers for the 22nd FIFA World Cup in Qatar for the year 2022. The qualifying brackets were announced in an official drawing ceremony that was held in Kuala Lumpur this Wednesday, July 17. Here the Azkals were put into Group A with two middle-ground teams and two FIFA heavyweights. For the former they are Maldives and Guam and for the latter, China (ranked 75th) and Syria (85th). They will certain pose a challenge for the Philippines, with rank 126.
With this grouping, the Azkals can stand to secure victories against FIFA #151 the Maldives and #190 Guam. But the thought of facing off against an old football nemesis such as China, a top Asian team, is daunting. Their squad has already hammered the Azkals two times in this year alone, during a friendly bout and during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Syria is just as formidable an opponent, winning 5-1 against the Philippine team back in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, before the “renaissance” by the squad that would receive the nickname of “Azkals.”
The FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers will be performed in a double-round robin format, with each team doing two games, one at home and another away, against every other team in their Group. Advancement to Round 3 of the 2022 qualifiers will be given to the Group winners (eight from A to H) and first runners-up. These games also double as qualifiers for the next AFC Asian Cup in 2023. In this case the Group winners automatically qualify while the runners-up will still have a third round of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers to endure.
The actual games of the FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers will not be played until September 5 to June 9, 2020, allowing the drawn teams over a year to practice. The 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar will run from November 21 to December 18 of that year, and will be hosted at eight or 12 venues around the Middle-Eastern country.
Image courtesy of Philippine Star