The Philippine Azkals defeated visiting Tajikistan, 2-1, Tuesday night booking their first-ever entry to the Asian Cup in front of 4,600 raucous fans at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
After a goalless first half and down to the Tajiks, 0-1, Kevin Ingreso nailed the equalizer in the 75th minute.
Skipper Phil Younghusband completed the comeback in historic fashion hitting the game-winning goal — his 50th international goal — in the 90th minute.
Ingreso made a crucial mistake in the 63rd minute tackling Davronov Nuriddin inside the box, handing a penalty kick to the Tajiks, which was converted by Nazarov Akhtam beating Azkals goalkeeper Neil Etheridge for the 1-0 lead in the 65th.
But Ingreso never gave up and made up for his mistake heading the equalizer in from Iain Ramsay’s beautiful cross.
“I made the mistake, it was a clear foul. I was down for a few minutes but my teammates pushed me up. I was the lucky one,” said Ingreso, who was named as man of the match.
“It’s not often I score a goal with my head. I was crying, the tears came out, the players were telling me that they knew I have character and I stepped forward, try to do my best to make it even,” he said.
The Philippines hung on tight in the dying minutes of the games only needing to preserve the goal to advance to the Asian tilt. The Tajiks were penalized for a handball, however, rewarding the Azkals a penalty kick.
Younghusband, who has been with the national team for a decade, took the penalty and bravely nailed his 50th international goal and booking the Philippines’ first historic ticket to the Asian Cup.
“The feeling of going to the Asian Cup, that’s what matters to me. It was about getting the win. I can’t believe the work everyone’s put in for this moment. It’s all worth it,” he said.
Azkals’ American head coach Thomas Dooley, whose wards finished Group F of the Qualifiers undefeated with 12 points from three wins and as many as draws, said that this squad is the best ever that the country had for making history.
“These are the guys who made history tonight, those are the best players we have at the moment in the Philippines. I am really really proud of these guys,” Dooley said.
Tajikistan settled for third place with seven points and will not be advancing to the Asian Cup.