January 7, 2019 (2 years ago), the Azkals made their first appearance of one of the biggest stages in international football, the AFC Asian Cup.
Before they entered the big scene, our national team was the weakest around South-East Asia but managed to beat the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup champions Vietnam. Through the years, Football was started to booming around, and the sport became popular with the masses. After numerous victories and defeats, the Azkals proved themselves their worth to make it into the big stage. Different tournaments from the AFF Suzuki Cup, the AFC Challenge Cup, and the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, but one tournament changed it all.
On the night of March 27, 2018, at Rizal Memorial Stadium. I was with my brothers on Ultras Filipinas and witnessed that game-changing moment against Tajikistan. It was a scoreless 1st Half as both teams made tremendous efforts to score a goal, but the away side scored a penalty in the 64th Minute by Akhtam Nazarov. Kevin Ingresso took down Davronov Nuriddin inside the penalty area making them on the lead. Only 26 minutes remaining but on the 74th minute a cross coming from Iain Ramsay looking for Kevin Ingresso. With a flick of his head, makes it at the back of the net making the score tied, and only 16 minutes left. In the 88th minute, a penalty was given to our side since Tajikistan was called for a handball inside the box. Phil Younghusband takes the penalty shot moments away after stoppage time. We're on the lead with 2 goals to 1. As the whole crowd goes wild, Phil caps off his 50th International Goal. Before the final whistle, there was a commotion on the end of the pitch, after cooling off their heads Fathuloev Fathullo and Dennis Villanueva both sent off with red cards.
As the final whistle blows, it was a sweet victory. The Azkals qualified for the AFC Asian Cup and we celebrated outside the stadium. Another milestone for Filipino Football, but the biggest challenge of them all is when they face the Taeguk Warriors of South Korea, the People's Republic of China, and the White Falcons of Kyrgyzstan. With their 1st match against the Taeguk's, Hwang Ui-jo scored in the 67th Minute, but the Azkals never backed down after attacks coming from the Koreans making a tight grip on their defense.
After numerous meetings, the Azkals crossed paths again with China. Every time these 2 countries meet again on the pitch, we Filipino Fans call this the Spratlys Derby because of the current tensions on who's the rightful owner of Spratlys Island. The Chinese won 3 goals. The last match was against the While Falcons of Kyrgyzstan. The Falcons are on the lead with 3 goals, as we are watching on a sports bar we screamed just one goal before the final whistle. It did happen, Stephan Schrock makes it at the back on the net via free kick.
Yes, we admit we lost all 3 matches, but it made the country proud as thousands of Filipinos watching from the stadium, and even from Manila at a sports bar just to watch them on the big screen. 11 years have passed, and this is only just the beginning of Filipino Football entering the biggest stages in our lives.