The pre-War era
The Philippine National Football Team, also known as “The Azkals,” may have only enjoyed popularity in recent years but the team goes way back in pre-World War II era.
The team made its debut at the 1913 Far Eastern Championship Games (what would be the precursor to the Asian Games) and beat China with a 2-1 score, which earned them the Championships. Rafael Iboleon from the Bohemian Sporting Club, scored the winning goal against their Chinese counterparts.
In 1917, the team scored 15-2 against first-time participants and host nation, Japan. Up until this day, that blowout score remains the highest ever goals scored by the Philippine side against any other international opponent.
The Philippine team also participated in the 1940 East Asian Games hosted by Japan in honor of the 2600th anniversary of the Emperor Jimmu’s founding of the nation. The football team placed third in that tournament.
Transition to Basketball
At the beginning of the 1950s, many players transitioned from football to basketball due to lack of funding and support from the media. While the team struggled to maintain its momentum with numerous international friendlies, there was a decline in the local football scene.
In 1958, after a historic win against Japan in the Asian Games held in Tokyo, football continued to dip and many national team players including Eduardo Pacheco and Ed Ocampo switched to basketball.
The national team enjoyed the participation of numerous foreign blood players born in the country but that changed when Fernando Alvarez was elected as secretary-general of the Philippine Football Association and he implanted the 60-40 rule for players.
It meant that all teams under the PFA should be composed of 60 percent Filipinos and 40 percent Chinese and other foreign nationals. Leagues and tournaments, mostly sponsored by the Filipino-Chinese community soon began to dwindle and withdraw their sponsorship which resulted to a further decline in the sport.
Wins and Losses
The team suffered heavy losses and at one time lost to Malaysia, 15-1. Japan finally got their revenge in 1967 when the Philippines lost to their team with a 15-0 score at the qualifiers for the 1968 Olympics.
Soon after, the PFA partnered with San Miguel Corporation to help develop the sport once again. They brought in foreign coaches, the likes of Alan Rogers who previously headed Persepolis F.C., Brian Birch and eventually, the Spaniard Juan Cutillas.
Cutillas brought in foreign players to join the team and hope was revived as international friendlies and competitions then showed positive results and wins. However, the lack of finances in the sport forced the foreign players to leave the team.
From 1991 to 1992, German football coach Eckhard Krautzun managed the team and led it to place at fourth, its highest finish ever, in the Southeast Asian Games.
The national team continued to struggle and experienced a rollercoaster ride since then.
Philippines received its lowest FIFA World Rankings in 2006 when it placed at 195th. It rose to 171st the following year under the tutelage of Ariston Caslib, when the team showed a better performance with three wins in a row at the 2007 ASEAN Football Championship qualifiers.
However, the 2007 ASEAN Football Championship was an entirely different story. They failed to reach their target of getting into the semifinals and Caslib eventually resigned. The Philippine Football Federation also refused to enter the team in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification stages because of their poor performance, a decision that was made as early as 2003 under the presidency of Rene Adad. PFF wanted the Azkals to focus on local and domestic competitions.
The team missed out on the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup as well as the AFF Suzuki Cup and did not qualify in any major tournament that year.
The rising phoenix
When all seemed lost, the PFF appointed businessman and sports enthusiast, Dan Palamit to manage the national team in 2009. His vision, along with the injection of his personal money to fund the team saw great results in the Azkals, and recognition of football in the Philippines started to rise again.
In 2010, the team beat the reigning AFF Suzuki Cup champions, Vietnam, in what would be dubbed as the “Miracle of Hanoi,” to qualify for the next stage. The win began the football renaissance in the basketball-crazy nation.
While the Philippines never made it into a FIFA World Cup qualifiers in previous years, 2011 was a different story. The Azkals beat Sri Lanka with a 4-0 victory to advance to the next round. That win was also the team’s first in any FIFA World Cup qualifying stage. However, it lost in the second round against Kuwait on a 5-1 aggregate score.
Come March 2012, the Philippine National Football Team won its first ever victory in the AFC Challenge Cup. The team defeated previous champions India and Tajikistan, which qualified them for the semifinals. They eventually lost to Turkmenistan but regained standings with a win against Palestine. The team finished third over-all in the competition.
The Azkals also took home the 2012 Philippine Peace Cup, and after a century, the team finally got their titles back since becoming champions in the 1913 Far Eastern Games.
In November 2012, the team reached the semifinals of the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup but eventually lost to Singapore in aggregate.
While the team reached the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup, it fell short against Palestine and was unable to make it to the 2015 Asian Cup.
However, the Philippines defeated Indonesia in the AFF Championship that year, the first in a long time since the Southeast Asian country bowed down to the Azkals in the 1934 Far Eastern Games.
Under the leadership of Thomas Dooley, the team breezed through Bahrain to win their first match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The victory also saw the Philippines achieve its highest FIFA World Rankings ever at 115th.