THE Philippine national men’s football team’s groundbreaking appearance in next year’s AFC Asian Cup took further form last week after the official draw for the high-profile event was made in the United Arab Emirates.
Held on May 4 at the Armani Hotel in Dubai, the Azkals had been drawn along with Korea Republic, China and Kyrgyz Republic in Group C of the quadrennial international men’s football championship of Asia organized by the Asian Football Confederation.
The grouping is one of six involving four teams each per group where the eventual champion will come out from.
The Philippines will make its Asian Cup debut against Korea Republic on Jan. 7, 2019 at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai before facing China on Jan. 11 at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
Kyrgyz Republic will be the last opponent of the Azkals in group play on Jan. 16 at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai.
The 2019 Asian Cup marks the first time the Philippines is going to be a competing team, something local football stakeholders are very proud of and excited about.
“We dreamt that one day we will have a team in the AFC Asian Cup, and now it has become a reality. We are thrilled that the Philippine men’s national team will be participating in Asia’s most prestigious tournament for the very first time,” said Philippine Football Federation President Mariano V. Araneta, Jr.
“The group of Korea Republic, China PR, and Kyrgyz Republic will be a challenging task for the team, but as we have witnessed every time the players take it to the field, our players will fight hard,” he added.
Long-time Azkals manager Dan Palami, for his part, said Group C is a tough grouping to be in but underscored the Azkals should have a fighting chance.
“It’s a good draw for a debutant team like the Philippines in the AFC Asian Cup. It’s the toughest tournament in Asia. We have to prepare well for the teams we are going to face. We played against China PR before and did not get a good result, but we know how to prepare for them. Korea Republic will always be a tough nut to crack. We played against Kyrgyz Republic in the past and I am sure they will prepare as well. Hopefully we get a good preparation that’s all we need to do and we’ll leave no stone unturned,” Mr. Palami said.
The Philippines secured qualification to the final round on March 27 with a 2-1 win over Tajikistan at the Rizal Memorial Stadium to win Group F of the qualifiers with 12 points.
In the final round of the Asian Cup, the top two teams in the grouping, along with the four best third-placed teams will advance to the knockout stages. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo