Azkals vets Phil Younghusband, Neil Etheridge hope historic win shines spotlight on Philippine football anew

Santino Honasan on Apr 02, 2018 03:20 PM
Azkals vets hope historic win elevates PH football anew
Brothers Phil and James Younghusband were both on the Azkals squad that shocked Vietnam in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Tuesday night in Manila, the Philippine Men’s National Football Team made history by defeating Tajikistan and qualifiying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

It’s the first time that the Philippines has qualified for the prestigious Asian tournament, and truth be told, it’s a far cry from when The Azkals exploded onto the scene eight years ago.

Dubbed as “The Miracle in Hanoi”, an unheralded Azkals squad stunned defending champions Vietnam, 2-0, in the Group Stages of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Having not qualified the previous edition of the tournament, the Philippines booked their first-ever Suzuki Cup semifinals berth that year, and ultimately brought Philippine football to new heights.

“The Suzuki Cup was a fantastic time, the 2010 to 2013 era was fantastic for the Azkals,” said goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, one of the three remaining active members of that 2010 squad. “Probably had a dip from then ’til now, but in all honesty, extremely happy and I can't say enough of the supporters that stuck by us. I'm happy to be where we are now.”

The Filipino-English keeper knows that magical night in Vietnam, the team’s journey hasn’t always been the smoothest.

“It's been tough for the team. We've all made mistakes, both on and off the field, management, ourselves as players. We've learned from it, we got stronger.”

In what can be described as a roller coaster ride filled with highs and lows, the Philippine Azkals have seen their share of big wins and sorry losses in the past number of years.

One can say that all those past heartbreaks have paved the way for the Azkals to once again soar to new heights, such as their first-ever Asian Cup berth.

“It’s been up and down. I think there’s been progression, as you can see now, from 2010 ’til now, there’s been progression. The expectancy is definitely a lot higher.” said Azkals team captain Phil Younghusband, who along with his brother James, were on the 2010 squad along with Etheridge. “It’s been up and down, we’ve had the Final in the Challenge Cup, that was a big low. We’ve had some amazing experiences in the semifinals of the Suzuki Cups, then we didn’t qualify for the last Suzuki Cup, and now we’ve got this. It’s up and down all the time, it’s crazy and it’s amazing but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

“Maybe the lack of success, the wins in the tournaments has maybe made people not talk about Philippine football, but I think the players need to be, the team needs to be successful, and that happens all over the world, to bring people in and get people interested.” Younghusband added.

Much like they did eight years ago in Hanoi, the Azkals once again elevated Philippine football to a new level after qualifiying for the Asian Cup, and much like they did eight years ago, Younghusband hopes that this historic win becomes a way for Philippine football to get even more support and attention.

“Hopefully this is the catalyst for more growth in Philippine Football. In 2010 we got a lot of support from the private industry, hopefully this moment could be another resurgence of Philippine Football, get people talking about Philippine Football.”

For Etheridge, it’s all about continuous improvement.

“I mean, you know, we set out long time ago to do this and now we've succeeded...the World Cup is obviously a long way away, in all honesty, we need to be happy at where we are at the moment, continue rising in the world rankings and strengthen the team and the squad and promote football in the Philippines.”

With the Asian Cup not until next January, the Azkals will first get the chance to redeem their past shortcomings later this year when they once again begin a brand new AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, which kicks off on November 8th.

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