Azkals The Philippines’ Zico Bailey tries to keep the ball away from Indonesia’s Rafael Struick during their FIFA 2026 World Cup Asian qualifiers match Tuesday night. PFF photo

Sorry loss for Azkals

June 13, 2024 Theodore P. Jurado 281 views

THE Philippines, already eliminated in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, gave Indonesia everything to handle before losing, 0-2, in front of a raucous 65,000 fans at the Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta Tuesday night.

It was a painful ending to the rebuilding Filipinos campaign, as they placed at the bottom of the Group F table, logging only a point when they drew the Garuda at the Rizal Memorial Stadium last November.

A goal in each half did the damage for Indonesia, which booked qualification into the next round of the World Cup qualifiers, as the football-crazed nation eyes its first appearance since 1936 when the country was then known as the Dutch East Indies.

The third round will see 18 teams — including Asian powerhouses Japan, South Korea and Iran — vie for six automatic World Cup spots across three groups, while two more spots will be up for grabs in the fourth round.

The Philippines’ Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet, meanwhile, praised his crew despite all the tremendous odds stacked against them.

“I’m proud of my team,” said Saintfiet after the defeat.

Thom Haye and Rizky Ridho were the goal scorers for the Garuda, who placed second in the group. The result also eliminated Vietnam, which lost to Group F winners Iraq, 1-3, in Basra.

“Indonesia was strong. Indonesia was clinical and Indonesia go to the next round. But we learned a lot. I’m satisfied with my team. We will be ready for the Mitsubishi Cup, and later on, the Asian Cup qualification next year,” said Saintfiet.

The Filipinos will now turn their focus to the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup in late November, where they will meet Garuda and the Golden Star Warriors again in their group.

The Philippines will prepare for the regional tournament with international friendlies during the September, October, and early November FIFA windows.

The win means Indonesia also booked its place in the AFC Asian Cup, to be hosted by Saudi Arabia in 2027.

The Filipinos will face a tough task of reaching the continent’s biggest football showcase, as only the group winners of each group will qualify for the AFC Asian Cup, where they will be joined by the 18 teams which qualified directly from the second round.

The 24 teams, which placed third and fourth in the just-concluded joint qualifiers, will be divided into six groups of four teams to play home-and-away third round matches starting March next year.

“I see a strong frame. I see a lot of young players who are eager to play with the right spirit,” Saintfiet said of the national team. “We can only grow.”

Although disappointed with the defeat, Saintfiet took a moment to acknowledge the vibrant atmosphere at Bung Karno, where the Philippines is no stranger to the massive Jakarta stadium during the Azkals rise in the past decade.

“I’ve never in my life seen such a beautiful atmosphere. Congratulations to all the Indonesian fans for the beautiful and passionate support. The singing, the banners, the flags – impressive, fantastic,” Saintfiet said.

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