By JONAS TERRADO
Phil Younghusband couldn’t wipe the smile off his face after completing the biggest achievement in Philippine football history by claiming a breakthrough slot in next year’s Asian Cup with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Tajikistan Tuesday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Younghusband capped off the Azkals’ fightback from a goal down with a penalty kick in injury time that gave him 50 international goals for flag and country. The dashing veteran of numerous football battles waxed sentimental of the hard-earned journey to Asia’s most prestigious football tournament.
“You take all the lows for these highs,” Younghusband said in a postgame interview on television.
He is one of a select few of Azkals who have experienced triumph and heartbreak, namely the stunning 2-0 win over Vietnam in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, to the missed Asian Cup berth in the 2014 Challenge Cup Final defeat to Palestine, to three straight semifinal exits in the Suzuki Cup.
But amid the hardships came the incomparable reward of making the Asian Cup, perhaps cementing the legacy of the nation’s most popular footballer.
“I don’t know if I have a legacy but I think this cements everyone’s legacy,” said the Davao Aguilas star, refusing to take the credit. “I don’t think about it as a legacy, I’m just so blessed to be part of this.”
It may take Kevin Ingreso a lifetime to match Younghusband’s wealth of experience but the Fil-German midfielder nearly had the most painful experience of his football life, had he not made amends with a much-needed equalizer.
Ingreso was the culprit of a penalty awarded to Tajikistan when he tripped a rushing Davronov Nuriddin inside the box, setting up the opening goal of Nazarov Akhtam in the 64th minute. But the Ceres-Negros standout atoned for that mistake nine minutes later, sending the crowd of 4,600 that filled the Rizal grandstand in delirium.
The 25-year-old showed poise under pressure when he took a looping cross by former Ceres teammate Iain Ramsay from the left flank and calmly headed the ball into the corner of the net to tie the score at 1-1, which was enough to seal the Asian Cup berth.
While the Younghusband goal was the icing on the cake, it was the Ingreso goal that saved the Azkals from another disaster.
“I think I was just the lucky one who was at the right spot,” said Ingreso. “When I made that mistake – it was a clear foul – I was down for a little bit but my teammates pushed me on and I think I was just a lucky one.”
No one on the team perhaps experienced a different kind of fulfillment than Azkals team manager Dan Palami, credited for the national team’s rise in the 2010 but who had fallen short multiple times despite spending a fortune trying to build a winning team. On Tuesday, his investment finally paid off.
“Sometimes you look at your bank account and then you just think if it’s all worth it,” he said. “These kinds of moments makes everything worth it.”