Remember the Azkals and the ‘Miracle of Hanoi’? Piece of history turns a decade today

Published December 5, 2020, 9:56 PM

by Jonas Terrado

Philippine football made significant strides while continuing its quest for relevance on both the domestic and international front exactly a decade since the Azkals pulled off the “Miracle of Hanoi.”

The Azkals did the unthinkable on Dec. 5, 2010 when they pulled off a 2-0 win over defending champion Vietnam in the group stage of the AFF Suzuki Cup that shocked most of the 40,000 fans at the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi.

Goals from Chris Greatwich and Phil Younghusband coupled with a stellar goalkeeping work from Neil Etheridge enabled the Azkals to pull off the stunning upset while putting themselves into limelight back home.

Crowds later packed the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City and the Rizal Memorial Stadium to witness their new heroes. Attendance eventually dipped once the euphoria died down, but the Azkals kept a fanbase that continues to actively root and promote football.

In beating Vietnam, the Philippines launched a period of four semifinal appearances in the last five editions of the Suzuki Cup, the preeminent football competition in Southeast Asia. Despite that feat, the championship continues to elude the Azkals as they have to break past the semis.

Over the next decade, the Azkals were able to discover new talent as the likes of Stephan Schrock, Javier Patino, brothers Manny and Mike Ott, Amani Aguinaldo and Carli de Murga arrived in lieu of Greatwich, Aly Borromeo, Ian Araneta, Roel Gener, Anton del Rosario, Chieffy Caligdong and Rob Gier.

Along the way, Phil Younghusband remained as the face of Philippine football up until his retirement earlier this year. He became the national team’s all-time leading scorer with 52 goals.

He was able to take part in the Azkals’ historic appearance in the 2019 AFC Cup, but losses to South Korea, China and Kyrgyzstan served as a reminder of the work that needs to be done in order to give themselves a fighting chance.

Those who were part of the victory in Hanoi also benefited from the emergence of the United Football League, at the time the country’s top domestic league. Air Force, led by Caligdong, was dominating the league until Global FC, Stallion, Loyola Meralco Sparks, Kaya and Ceres-La Salle.

Ceres and Global eventually fought for supremacy that spilled into the Philippines Football League which started in 2017 when the country was already sending clubs to the continental tournaments like the AFC Cup.

Ceres became the country’s most dominant team, winning PFL trophies while becoming a regular participant in the AFC Cup before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a change in ownership and new name in United City.

Other teams also folded or suffered financial woes, namely the demise of Loyola Meralco in 2017 and unpaid dues that hounded Global the last couple of years, situations that the PFL continues to try and resolve in order for the league to be stable in the long run.

The Philippines has also exported talent, with several players currently or on their way to suiting up for clubs in Thailand while Etheridge had a rollercoaster journey outside of Azkals duties that saw him turn from an unused goalie at Fulham, to a Premier League starter with Cardiff City and back into the second division with Birmingham City.

Women’s football also gained significant progress, placing fifth in its first Asian Cup stint in 2018 while missing out on a bronze medal in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

Age group competitions have been aplenty as the Philippine Football Federation and other entities hope to develop new talent even as pitches are being built in some urban and rural areas.

The “Miracle of Hanoi” did change the landscape of Philippine football, but taking the next step will be its biggest challenge until the 20th anniversary of that landmark victory.