The Asian Cup expansion to 24 teams is a chance for some new names to find their place at the major Asian football tournament. One of these teams will be The Philippines, that will make their debut appearance in 2019.
They were only one win away from making this debut in 2015. They lost at the AFC Challenge Cup final against Palestine and missed their chance. Four years later, The Philippines are not only better but can surprise Asia.
For years, The Philippines were one of the biggest minnows of Asia. It took a while until the team found their new hope for the future, the brothers Phil and James Younghusband.
They were born in England and both played for Chelsea’s youth teams. In 2005, an anonymous person notified the Philippine FA that these players have a Filipno descent. The person actually discovered it unintentionally while he was playing Football Manager.
The brothers got their first call-up in 2005, as they played for the U-23 team in the Southeast Asian Games. Even though they failed to qualify through the group stage, The Philippines won a match in the tournament for the first time since 1995 and the Younghusband brothers scored six out of the team's seven goals.
It was the a sign for a change in the team.
In more than a decade since then, The Philippines improved as well. After years of failing qualify from the group stage, in 2010 they made their first appearance at the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals. They reached this stage twice more, including in 2018.
In this period they even returned to the World Cup qualifiers, after they didn't enter to competition in 2006 and 2010. Their win against Sri Lanka in 2014 World Cup qualifiers was their first step and in the last campaign they made impressive results against experienced teams like North Korea and Bahrain.
The Younghusband brothers were not the only additions from abroad to the team in this time. New players were added to the squad like the German-born players Stephan Schröck and John-Patrick Strauss, and the former Denmark U-19 goalkeeper, Michael Falkesgaard, all of Filipino descent. The most famous player of the team is Cardiff City goalkeeper, Neil Etheridge, that represents the team since 2008.
Yet, the Azkals found some problems in this mission. During the qualifiers they were led by American manager, Thomas Dooley. Even though his four year term was successful, the FA didn't renew his contract.
Since he left, four managers led the team in a period of less than six months. Englishman Terry Butcher was the first, but he left after two months because he didn't feel that the team is ready. His assistant, Scott Cooper replaced him and made a rotation with a local coach, Anto Gonzales.
In October, The Philippines met their new manager and the one who will guide them in the Asian Cup – Sven-Göran Eriksson. He signed a short term contract, only six months, but people in The Philippines believe that he can do a great job and leave a legacy in the local football.
No matter what will happen, the rise of Filipino football is remarkable. Now they need to show that they are worth to be part of this tournament.