The items on the Philippines men’s national football team’s to-do list are daunting without a doubt.
But for the Azkals to get to where they’ve never been, they need to do some things they’ve never done before.
The Filipinos take on Kyrgyzstan in Dubai on Wednesday, in both sides’ final group-stage assignment in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
Kickoff is at 9:30 p.m., Manila time.
A spot in the knockout stage is at stake at Rashid Stadium, where Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad not only needs to register a first-ever goal in the Asian Cup but the Azkals, first-time participants in this competition, also have to come away with 3 points.
No ifs, not buts. A loss means goodbye and so would a draw, although the Azkals could find consolation in the latter scenario given it would be their first point in Cup history.
If the focus is on advancing, though, then beating fellow debutants Kyrgyzstan is just half the battle.
The Filipinos would need to wait for the results of the matches on Thursday and Friday to see if their performance would be enough to land them among the four third-placed teams with the highest points and secure a subsequent berth in the round of 16.
“As long as it’s a possibility, we have to fight for it,” Eriksson said in an interview posted on the Asian Football Confederation website.
“I am sure that our players we go out tomorrow and fight, and do everything to try and win the game. I am sure 100 percent of that.”
Of the six groups, only two have completed their schedules. In Group A, Bahrain sits third with 4 points, while Palestine sits at 2 points in Group B.
Besides the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan being tied at zilch in Group C, Vietnam and Yemen in Group D, and Oman and Turkmenistan in Group F face the same circumstances when the pairs clash on Thursday.
Lebanon and North Korea, also without a point, battle for third place in Group E on Friday.
While the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan lost via identical 1-0 score line to South Korea, the Azkals stumbled 3-0 to China. Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan nearly pulled off an upset, before falling 2-1 to China, with an own-goal key in its defeat.
“I think (Kyrgyzstan) did well in both games they played,” Eriksson said. “They stood up to their opponents.
“Against China they conceded two goals very easily and that changed that game. They had the chance to make a draw against them, they could have won as well, they had good chances.”
Kyrgyzstan, 91st in the FIFA world rankings and 25 rungs higher than the Philippines, lost its two previous matches to the Azkals, but that was long before Eriksson came on board.
For the battle-scarred Swedish coach, those victories have no bearing on the task at hand.
“They are in the same situation as we are. It’s not going to be an easy game. They believe as we believe, that they have a chance,” Eriksson said.
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