For the second tournament in a row, the Philippines stand one game away from securing the country’s first AFC Asian Cup Finals appearance as Thomas Dooley and the Azkals prepare to take on Tajikistan in their final qualifier in Manila tonight.
Dooley’s side only need a draw against the Central Asian nation to progress to next January’s tournament, while Tajikistan must secure all three points to book their debut appearance at the tournament as a three-way fight for the top two places in Group F goes down to the wire.
Yemen, who are currently second in the group, take on Nepal in Doha knowing a win over the already-eliminated South Asian nation will see them advance to the Finals for the first time.
The Philippines have been in a similar position before, having reached the final of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup, only to fall at the last hurdle with a 1-0 loss at the hands of Palestine that saw the West Asian nation claim a place at Australia 2015.
But Dooley is confident the disappointment of that defeat no longer lingers in the thoughts of his players.
“I don’t think it’s that much in our mind,” said the two-time FIFA World Cup defender. “The players have to be focused on what they need to do and not about being angry about not doing it four years ago.
“We have grown up four more years and developed four more years and we know what we should do and we’ll be focused on that and understand that we can do it the way that we play right now.”
The Philippines have already allowed two opportunities to seal their spot slip through their fingers with back-to-back draws against Yemen and Nepal, but another point for the undefeated Azkals would guarantee their involvement in next year’s competition.
“Obviously it’s an important game for us and we never expected it to come down to the last game, but that happens sometimes,” said Dooley. “Now we have a home game we cannot afford to lose and we have to get a point or win and then we qualify. We are looking forward to it.
“I’m trying to take the pressure away from the players and focus on writing history for the Philippines.”
Tajikistan lost a seven-goal thriller by a single goal when they last met the Philippines in qualifying and coach Khakim Fuzaylov is focusing on the task at hand at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
“Everybody knows the importance of this match,” he said. “The team and the coaching staff and everybody is familiar with what’s going to happen and it’s a very important match for us.
“The players are in different conditions because they’re coming from different clubs, so some are in really good shape and some are not and the difference between the substitutes and the other players, you can feel it. But this game is very important for football in Tajikistan.” *afc.com
back to top