The Philippine men’s national football team may have ended their 2022 World Cup bid but they have booked a ticket to the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers (ACQ) with a 1-1 draw against bitter rival Maldives in a no-bearing final game at the Sharjah bubble Tuesday.
The ageless Angel Guirado, taking the mantle as the Azkals’ top forward in the post-Phil Younghusband era, whooped in his third goal of the tournament in the 19th minute with a bounce shot off an errant clearance from Ali Samooh.
Maldvian veteran Ali Fasir then replied six minutes later with a sneak-in strike past the defense of Justin Baas and Manny Ott for a beautiful equalizer.
It was an all-Azkals second half thereafter but the team could not convert a goal despite clear shots from Manny Ott and Jarvey Gayoso, who both played in front after head coach Scott Cooper benched Guirado and fellow forward Mark Hartmann to give chance to less experienced players.
As expected, the third-seed Azkals finished the second round of the World Cup/Asian Cup Qualifier at third place, with 11 points (three wins, two draws, and three losses) to place third in Group A, surpassing their 10-point mark in the 2015-18 edition. They will next compete in the third round in November.
Before the game, Cooper said they plan to finish the qualifiers with 13 points but Maldives, perhaps the Philippines’ most tenacious rivals in the AFC, salvaged a draw to finish at fourth place with seven points. They will battle Cambodia in a home-and-away in the ACQ playoff round in September.
The Azkals’ group mates Syria and 2023 Asian Cup hosts China have automatically entered the Asian Cup as the top two finishers in their group.
(Photo from The Azkals Facebook page)