PHL Azkals miss cut in AFC Asian Cup qualifiers

THE Philippine Azkals kissed their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup aspirations goodbye after missing the cutline for the last five tickets at stake in the final round of the qualifiers in Mongolia.

Undone by their 4-0 setback to Palestine on Tuesday night, the Azkals finished with four points in Group B and hoped to still make it as one of the five best second-placers across the six groups.

However, the rest of the No. 2 teams tallied a superior six-point card apiece and nosed out the Azkals for the remaining seats to next year’s Continental showpiece.

Kyrgyz Republic (Group F), Indonesia (Group A), Malaysia (Group E), Thailand (Group C), and Hong Kong (Group D) progressed, leaving the six-ranked Philippines out of it all.

In the fringes with three points entering the last day of pool play, Indonesia and Malaysia came through with crucial victories on Tuesday night over Nepal (7-0) and Bangladesh (4-1) to zoom past the erstwhile fourth-running Azkals and ensure their respective march.

Jordan, Palestine, Uzbekistan, India, Bahrain and Tajikistan earlier clinched the six berths for the group topnotchers.

The 11 qualifiers joined 2015 champions Australia, China, three-time winner Iran, Iraq, two-time victor Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Oman, reigning holder Qatar, three-time ruler Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam in the main competition.

It’s back to the drawing boards for the Filipino booters, who missed the bus four years after making their historic debut in the Asian Cup.

Indonesia humbled Nepal 7-0 and Jordan beat former champions Kuwait 3-0 to round out the field for next year’s expanded 24-team Asian Cup finals in the final night of qualifying action on Tuesday.

The final matches of the round in Kuwait City saw Jordan advance as Group A winners on the back of three second-half goals and Indonesia edges out the Philippines as the last of the five best second-placed teams.

Winger Witan Sulaeman scored twice as Indonesia clinched the final qualifying spot against Nepal, who was reduced to 10 men after little more than half an hour when Suman Aryal was sent off for a second yellow card.

Already 1-0 ahead, Indonesia doubled their lead before half time and poured on five more goals after the break to ensure their presence at the continental championships for the first time since they co-hosted in 2007.

Malaysia, who also co-hosted in 2007, had not progressed from qualifying since 1980 but a 4-1 thrashing of Bangladesh in Kuala Lumpur got them in behind Group E winner Bahrain, who sealed top spot with a 1-0 win over Turkmenistan.

The first 24-team Asian Cup will be played in a yet-to-be determined venue after China withdrew from hosting the event due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Bahrain and Malaysia joined Group B winner Palestine as well as Uzbekistan, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in advancing to the finals.

Reigning champion Qatar, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Syria, Australia, Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, China, Oman, Vietnam and Lebanon had already booked their spots.

India took top spot in Group D with a 4-0 win over Hong Kong, who also advanced as second-place finishers.

Anwar Ali gave Igor Stimac’s India side the lead inside the first minute as he fired into the roof of the net before Sunil Chhetri scored his 84th international goal in first half added time.

Late goals from substitutes Manvir Singh and Ishan Pandita completed the rout.

Palestine secured first place in Group B earlier on Tuesday with a 4-0 thumping of the Philippines, while Uzbekistan ensured they would finish top of Group C with a 2-0 win over second-placed Thailand.

Tajikistan finished first in Group F and advanced alongside Kyrgyzstan after the pair shared a 0-0 draw in Bishkek. — Olmin Leyba with reports from Reuters