Azkals skipper Phil Younghusband believes Asian Cup success will erase sour memory of past Suzuki Cup
Santino Honasan on Mar 21, 2017 04:27 PM
"If we can do well in the Asian Cup Qualifiers, that will be in everyone's minds rather than what happened in the Suzuki Cup." - Phil Younghusband
When we last saw Phil Younghusband in a Philippine Azkals kit, they were on the losing end of a 1-0 match against Thailand, a loss that ultimately booted them out of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup.
After the Azkals' impressive showing in the World Cup Qualifiers, many believed that the Pinoy side had a good shot at finally capturing the AFF title.
Instead, the biennial tournament saw the Philippine senior men's national football team go to a draw against Singapore and Indonesia, before bowing to Thailand, and all of that happened on home soil.
Now, a little under three months later, Phil and the Azkals are back and are about to embark on yet another tournament, but this time the stakes are higher.
While the Azkals failed to move on to the next round of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, they did secure a spot in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, and they begin that journey on March 28th, against Nepal.
For the 29-year old, a succesful run in the Asian Cup will be enough to erase the bitter memories of a dismal Suzuki Cup campaign, their worst since 2008.
"If we can do well in the Asian Cup, I think people will stop thinking about what happened in the Suzuki Cup, and you're only as good as your last game, so we'll we what will be in our heads since we played in our last game." Younghusband told ABS-CBN Sports. "If we can do well in the Asian Cup Qualifiers, that will be in everyone's minds rather than what happened in the Suzuki Cup."
The Philippines' all-time leading scorer believes that while the Asian Cup is a more prestigious tournament, being that it includes not just Southeast Asian squads, it could also be a way for them to finally gain enough experience to finally prove that they are the best Southeast Asian football nation.
"For me, the Asian Cup is a bigger tournament than the Suzuki Cup, I think the Suzuki Cup, locally, it's probably more prestigious, it's where we need to prove we're the best team in Southeast Asia, we need to win that competition first, but I think if we're able to compete against teams in the Asian Cup, that will give us the experience that we need to eventually go on to win the Suzuki Cup."
When the AFF Suzuki Cup draw was held and it was revealed that the Philippines was grouped with Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, many were quick to label it "The Group of Death", which was pretty warranted, considering that Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand all had appearances in the Finals at least once in the prior three editions of the tournament. (Not to mention that Thailand has appeared in the finals seven times since Suzuki Cup's inception in 1996.)
"It was a tough group, for me, we lost it in the first two games, and then coming up against Thailand, having to win, that was always gonna be a challenge, for me, Thailand is the strongest team in Southeast Asia." Younghusband said. "We lost it in the first two games, we didn't capitalize on them going down to ten men, I think we should have beaten Indonesia, for me, that's not the strongest team they've ever had."
Still, Younghusband isn't crediting the strength of the group for their subpar performances, rather, he says that it was the extended season for the national team that played a major factor.
"Personally, I would put it down to a long season, it was over a 15-month season, for any player to play 15 months, you don't see that anywhere in the world in any sport, and I don't think that helped. We started pre-season in October of 2015 and we finished in December of 2016."
"For players' preparation, to make sure that they're peaking during the big tournaments, that wasn't the case, and to be with the group we had, we had to be our best to beat those teams, and I don't think we were quite there." Younghusband added.
Tough group, long season, whatever the cause was, it's all behind them now.
In around a week's time, Phil and the rest of the Azkals get to put their kits on once again and represent the country on the football pitch.
The past AFF Suzuki Cup was no doubt a low for the Azkals, but you can expect them to use that as motivation to once again reach new heights.