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Sports

After Bahrain defeat Azkals pushed to the brink

Olmin Leyba - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – After that disappointing 0-2 setback to Bahrain in Manama, the Philippine Azkals are fully aware they’re in dire straits in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers.

With seven points after five matches in Group H, the Azkals need to win the remaining assignments against Yemen, Uzbekistan and North Korea and hope for the best and land in the Top 2. Currently, North Korea already has 13 points with three matches left while Uzbekistan has nine with still four fixtures to go.

Per tournament format, the group winners and four best runners-up across the eight groups will advance to the third round of the WCQ as well as the final round of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Teams eliminated from the WCQ will then get to compete for berth in the third round of the qualification for the Asian Cup.

“It will be difficult to be in the Top 2 and I think realistically, we gotta look at getting third (in the group) and getting into the third qualification round of the Asian Cup. But we’ll never know. I mean, if we win the rest of our games, who knows? It will be difficult but I think our priority should be getting third place,” Azkals captain Phil Younghusband said.

Younghusband expressed belief getting good results in the remainder of group play is still achievable.

“I think it’s possible. We have the quality. It’s just that mentally, we’re not quite there yet,” he said, remembering bitter losses in games that mattered such as the finals of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup against Palestine and the semis of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup against Thailand.

“There seems to be a mental block because we know we have the quality, we have the players. It’s just getting over that barrier and we’re not quite there yet,” he added.

Such lack of mental toughness was evident in the setback to Bahrain Tuesday night. The loss came after the Azkals bravely battled North Korea in a 0-0 draw in Pyongyang to highlight their taxing two-game, five-day slate on the road.

“I don’t think it was fatigue (due to the long travel). We felt we could win this game comfortably. If we could just score our first goal, then we could get the win. But they scored the first goal and that made it difficult because once they made one goal, we always felt we needed to win the game and we needed to score two. And mentally, that’s very difficult,” he said.

Younghusband, however, is likely to be ineligible to play when the Azkals go for a redemption win on Nov. 12 against Yemen at the Rizal Memorial Stadium for accumulating two yellow cards. The veteran was booked in the Bahrain loss, his second after a similar caution in a previous 1-5 loss to Uzbekistan.

“If I do (get suspended in the Yemen match), then at least I wouldn’t miss the Uzbekistan and North Korea games,” he said.

 

ACIRC ASIAN CUP AZKALS BAHRAIN BAHRAIN TUESDAY CHALLENGE CUP FIFA WORLD CUP GROUP H IF I NORTH KOREA UZBEKISTAN AND NORTH KOREA
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