Drawing strength from the 3-1 victory over Pakistan that sealed its triumph in the Philippine Peace Cup last Tuesday, the Philippines climbed to its highest ranking in history, vaulting four places up to No. 137 in the latest International Football Federation (Fifa) rankings.
And for the first time, the Azkals supplanted Thailand as the No. 1-ranked side in Southeast Asia after the Thais dropped to No. 143 in the world.
Myanmar is the third best team in Southeast Asia at 149, followed by Vietnam (151), Singapore (155), Malaysia (160), Indonesia (162), Laos (165), Timor Leste (193), Brunei (193) and Cambodia (198).
Ironically, the Philippines is not sending a football team to the Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar this December.
The Fifa ranking system not only considers recent results, but also gives weight to the performance of the national team since 2010. The Azkals picked up 213 ranking points over the past month.
“This is the result of the hard work and sacrifice of those involved with the national team, particularly the players, and the support of the Philippine Football Federation,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami.
“Getting the top ranking in Southeast Asia has been our goal since we started with the national team. I’m glad that our efforts have been rewarded,” added Palami, who started supporting the team in 2010.
“We hope that the new ranking will continue to inspire the team to reach greater heights,” said PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta.
Though the Azkals, known for their resiliency, have played only seven matches this year, they endured a busy schedule in the past two years, allowing them to pick up significant ranking points.
Palami believes the rankings will give the Azkals a huge confidence boost as they prepare for the AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives in May next year.
The winner of the Challenge Cup will qualify for the Asian Cup, which has been the target of the Azkals.
“We should not lose sight of the bigger picture, which is the Challenge Cup,” said Palami.
“We want to win that championship. To go there and to do that will take more than just a win in the Peace Cup as it will take a lot of effort from the stakeholders of the sport.”