By Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
BUOYED by a historic third-place finish in the AFC Challenge Cup, the Philippines vaulted to its highest position in world football in the latest rankings released by the International Football Federation.
Once near the bottom at No. 195 a few years ago, the Azkals climbed to No. 148 in the April rankings after a string of victories in the Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal last month.
Led by top scorer Phil Younghusband, the Azkals turned out to be the surprise package of the tournament for emerging countries in the continent, stunning former champions India (2-0) and Tajikistan (2-1), before nipping Palestine (4-3) in the third place playoff.
The two losses of the Azkals in the tournament came against eventual champion North Korea (0-2) in the group stage and losing finalist Turkmenistan (1-2) in the semifinals.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami, who took over the team in late 2010 when the team was hovering in the No. 165 to No. 185 positions. “We’re still a work in progress. We look forward to scaling new heights and we can only do that with training and international exposure.”