by JONAS TERRADO
The Philippine Azkals claimed their first-ever appearance in the prestigious Asian Cup behind a courageous fightback in the final 20 minutes, beating Tajikistan, 2-1, in the final match of the Group F qualifiers held in front of more than 4,600 fans at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Kevin Ingreso redeemed himself from conceding a penalty by scoring the equalizing goal in the 73rd minute before Phil Younghusband, the nation’s most popular player, registered a landmark 50th international goal with a spot kick in injury time to seal the Azkals’ place in the continental tournament.
In beating Tajikistan, the Azkals topped Group F with 12 points to secure a place in the next year’s Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, marking the first time that the Philippines will play in the quadrennial competition.
The achievement was also the crowning jewel to an eight-year odyssey that began in Dec. 2010 when the Azkals stunned Southeast Asia with a shock 2-0 victory over host Vietnam in the AFF Suzuki Cup held in Hanoi.