For a Philippine side looking to make its dream a reality, it all boils down to one last game in the AFC Challenge Cup here Friday.
Their resolve strengthened by a dramatic semifinal win over the host country, the Azkals seek to rewrite history when they face Palestine in a final that offers compelling storylines for both nations.
What was a long shot four years ago when the team rose to prominence with their victory in Vietnam is now a whisker away for the Azkals, who came here with the belief that their time has come to win this competition for Asia’s emerging football nations.
“There’s no doubt this is our biggest ever, our biggest opportunity,” said skipper Rob Gier. “But we’re not really trying to focus too much on the history side of things. We just want to focus on the game.”
Although the atmosphere won’t be as hostile as in the 3-2 extra time win over the Maldives in the semifinals Tuesday night, the Azkals expect a dogfight just the same with the Palestinians also looking to bring home the title to lift their country’s spirits.
It’s been a long and arduous journey for the Azkals, who endured heartaches after losing in the semifinals of major tournaments three times.
They want to seize the moment this time.
“The boys are ready to play and make the country proud,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “It’s the culmination of our journey and we hope and pray it ends up with us being victorious.”
Palestine came into the tournament as one of its lower-ranked teams based on the Fifa tally, but it has hardly played like one, winning three of its four matches without conceding a goal. The team also carries the hope of a nation seeking a lift due to its country’s political situation.
“I hope to win but it’s a hard match,” Palestine coach Jamal Mahmoud told Filipino reporters Thursday.
“It’s very big for us because you know Palestinian is in occupation and we want to bring good news to the country that we have a team that they can be proud of.”