The Philippines’ first ever AFC Asian Cup campaign came to a screeching halt on Wednesday with a 3-1 loss at the hands of Kyrgyzstan, while Vietnam await the final results in groups E and F to determine whether they will progress to the knockout stage.
After reaching the semi-finals of the 2018 AFF Cup, belief was high that the Philippines could make an impression on the continental stage for the first time. With world-renowned former England boss Sven Goran Eriksson at the helm, the Azkals were now firmly on the world’s footballing map. However, drawn in a group with favorites Korea and rising powerhouse China, they were widely expected to battle it out with fellow debutants Kyrgyzstan for qualification through the third-place rankings.
After both sides lost their opening two matches, the Philippines took on the White Falcons in a crunch match at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai. The South-East Asian were dumped out of the tournament by an impressive hattrick by Vitalij Lux, and a late consolation goal from Stephan Schröck did little to change the final result, sending Kyrgyzstan into the last 16.
Vietnam similarly suffered a cruel fate on matchday one. Despite leading twice, the side were eventually beaten due to a stoppage-time goal from Ali Adnan. A lack of experience and extended runs in both the Asian Games and the AFF Cup hampered the Golden Stars, who then lost 2-0 against continental giants Iran courtesy of a brace from Rubin Kazan striker Sardar Azmoun.
The South-East Asian Champions faced Yemen in the final group game, needing a win to even stand a chance at progressing. Fortunately for them, the nation’s player of the year for 2018 Nguyen Quang Hai stepped up when needed to tuck away an excellent free-kick to give the Golden Stars the lead. Vietnam then sealed the win with a penalty from Que Ngoc Hai shortly after the hour mark.
Sitting third in the third-placed rankings before the final day of the group stage, the side needs one draw from the games between Lebanon and North Korea, and Oman and Turkmenistan respectively to secure their progression. Their -1 goal difference stands them in good stead heading into this crucial moment.