By the time this column sees print, the Azkals match against China in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers would have just wrapped up.
I hope the Philippines took that chance to upset its stronger adversaries and earn a crucial three points in Group A.
Doing so would bolster the chances of the Azkals to advance to the third round of WC qualifiers, as well as the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
As it stands, Syria leads Group A with 18 points after winning all of its six qualifying matches so far.
The Azkals have no chance of catching up with Syria and win the group, so the race now is mainly against China and the Maldives for group runner up honors.
That means regardless of today’s results, the Azkals’ remaining matches against cellar dwellers Guam on June 11 and fourth-place Maldives on June 15 still carry plenty of weight.
But let us make this clear: if the Azkals advance to the third round, that would be one of the biggest milestones of the team by far, comparable to its historic qualification to the 2019 Asian Cup.
In the 2018 WC qualifiers, although the Azkals ended its World Cup campaign with a third-place group finish, the team advanced to the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers, and the rest was history.
Fast forward to the ongoing 2022 WC and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers, there’s still plenty of history to be made.
Failure to advance in the WC qualifiers certainly wouldn’t be the end of the road for this team, but fan expectations are high for the Philippines to qualify anew to the 2023 Asian Cup.
On the other hand, the Azkals deserve the unconditional support of the Philippine football community.
Having gone through a logistical nightmare during team preparations days ago, the players, as well as the staff, are risking life and limb in the United Arab Emirates right now, health hazards from the pandemic notwithstanding.
And at the very least, let us just be happy and glad that the Azkals, after what seemed like the longest of layoffs, are finally seeing competitive action again.
The matches that the Philippine Azkals are playing right now in foreign land are not mere games: they are glimpses of hope that football in our country will be played and celebrated once more in the new normal.