It ends with heartbreak.
The Philippine Azkals ended their first-ever AFC Asian Cup campaign in a loss against fellow first-timer Kyrgyzstan, 3-1 to close their Group C assignment last January 16th at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Vitalij Lux led the Kyrgyz charge with a hat-trick via his goals in the 24th, 51st and 77th minute, leading his team for a knockout stage appearance.
The Azkals ended their AFC Asian Cup Group Stage campaign with zero points, losing all their group stages assignments.
Still, the Azkals are having a reason in remembering the tournament especially their last outing after Stephan Schrock strikes for the Azkals with his goal in the 80th minute to put the Filipinos onboard against Kyrgyzstan thus, helping the Azkals to register its first-ever goal in the AFC Asian Cup.
“We were all down in the locker room,” said Schrock via Inquirer.net after the match. “As I’ve said, this was a tough loss and it’s the third in a row. Besides the fact that we represented the country for the first time, we gave it our all, we did our best, but with the lack of preparation this was the best possible outcome for us.”
Despite another setback, Azkals head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson believed the future is bright for the team.
“I think this is a good group that should continue playing together,” Eriksson quoted in the same Inquirer.net report as his contract expired after the Azkals last group stage game in the tournament.
Azkals team manager Dan Palami meanwhile thankful for their first-ever AFC Asian Cup appearance and vowing the Azkals maiden appearance in the AFC Asian Cup will not the last one.
“Thy will be done, Lord. Thank you for the privilege of representing the Philippines in this Asian Cup. It’s our first but certainly not going to be our last. Salamat sa suporta mga kababayan!” Palami tweeted on his Twitter account that was quoted in a report of BusinessWorld.
After the maiden AFC Asian Cup stint, the Azkals attention will not shift for the upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The U-22 and U-23 teams are also set to compete in the coming months.
“Coach Sven’s engagement ends in this tournament,” Palami told Inquirer.net. “Meanwhile, we have our football director Scott Cooper taking the reins in the senior team as well as preparing for Under-22 and Under-23 tournament. It is going to be exciting times in the next months.”
FIFA World Rankings: Azkals fall, Malditas unchanged
The Philippine Azkals and the Philippine Malditas got contrasting updates on their FIFA World Rankings.
Based on the latest rankings released last December 20th, the Azkals or the men’s national football team faltered from 114th to 116th despite a successful run in the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup, when the Azkals qualified for the home-and-away semifinals but eliminated by the eventual Suzuki Cup champion Vietnam, 4-2 on aggregate.
The Azkals are still the second best team in Southeast Asia despite the drop in the latest World Rankings just behind Vietnam (100th). The Philippines are also ahead against another regional rival Thailand (118th).
Iran, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia are the best teams in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) teams after ranking 29th, 41st, 50th, 53rd and 69th respectively.
Belgium occupied the first spot in the latest World Ranking followed by France, Brazil, Croatia, and England to close out the top five.
The women’s national football team or Malditas ranking meanwhile in the Women’s FIFA World Ranking remained the same despite an impressive showing in the Asian Olympic Qualifiers last November.
In the latest rankings released last December 7th, the Malditas still ranked 74th.
The Malditas are the fourth best team in Southeast Asia, just behind Thailand (29th); Vietnam (35th ) and Myanmar (44th ).
Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and China are the best-ranked team in the AFC after ranking 6th,8th, 11th,14th and 15th respectively.
The United States still occupied the first spot of the women’s World Ranking with Germany, France, England and Canada wrapping-up the top five.