The Philippines made football history after defeating Tajikistan, 2-1 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium to qualify for the first time ever for the prestigious AFC Asian Cup.
Azkals striker Phil Younghusband sealed the victory with a penalty kick at the 90th minute, scoring his 50th goal in international competition in the most dramatic fashion.
With the win, the Azkals finished on top of Group F with 12 points to seal their ticket to next year’s tournament in the United Arab Emirates.
“We never gave up,” a beaming coach Thomas Dooley told reporters after the game. “They scored 20 minutes before the end, and a lot of teams would fall down but our team did not.”
“We stepped up, we scored two goals, and we won,” he said.
But the Philippines had to go through quite a scare against a game Tajikistan side, which drew first blood after Kevin Ingreso gave up a penalty for a tackle inside the box, resulting in a Nazarov Akhtam goal at the 66th minute.
With the small but rabid crowd at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium at the edge of their seats, Ingreso would turn from goat to hero with a goal at the 75th minute to revive the Azkals’ chances.
That would set up Younghusband’s historic goal, which came after a hit on Patrick Reichelt inside the penalty box.
The home team held on the rest of the way to seal perhaps the biggest step in Philippine football history, a culmination of eight years of steady ascension that began in 2010, when the Azkals first captured the fancy of the basketball-crazy nation with a surprising semifinals run in the AFF Suzuki Cup.
“We made history today for Philippine football,” said Ingreso. “I cannot describe my feelings right now, but we totally deserve the win today.”