The final four teams to qualify for next year’s UAE-hosted Asian Cup were decided on Tuesday, meaning we now know the full 24 contenders to be taking part in the emirates from January 5 to February 1.
The Philippines qualified for the first time in their history with a come-from-behind 2-1 win at home to Tajikistan in Manila to top Group F of third round qualification.
Thomas Dooley’s side only needed a draw to advance but managed the victory after goals from Kevin Ingreso and Phil Younghusband on 74 and 91 minutes cancelled out Akhtam Nazarov’s 64-minute opener.
“We never gave up,” said Dooley. “They scored 20 minutes before the end, and a lot of teams would fall down but our team did not.
“We stepped up, we scored two goals, and we won. It cannot be better, to have this kind of game. Somebody made a penalty but Ingreso scores the equaliser. We get a penalty, and our captain scores his 50th goal. Everything was perfect.”
The Azkals (Street Dogs) can expect a warm welcome in the UAE next January where there are 750,000 Filipino expatriates waiting to cheer them on.
Yemen also qualified for the Asian Cup for the first time in their history after beating Nepal 2-1 on Tuesday to finish second in Group F at the expense of Tajikistan who lost in Manila. Yemen’s game was a home tie but played on neutral turf in Doha, Qatar, due to security concerns.
Elsewhere, Kyrgyzstan finished second in Group A behind India after beating the already-qualified Indian side 2-1 at home in Bishkek for another historic first-qualification for the central Asian outfit. This ruled Myanmar out despite the Burmese side beating Macao 1-0 at home.
North Korea also joined already-qualified Lebanon as runners-up out of Group B after beating Hong Kong 2-0 at home in Pyongyang. That result eliminated Hong Kong who were also vying for second and handed North Korea their fifth Asian Cup qualification.
These four: Philippines, Yemen, Kyrgyzstan and North Korea, join the 20 teams who had already qualified. They are; hosts UAE, and fellow GCC sides Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar, other regional sides are; Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon.
Defending champions Australia are also there along with four-time record winners Japan, as well as South Korea, China, India, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Vietnam and Turkmenistan.
Next year’s tournament has been expanded to 24 teams from 16 for the first time meaning many teams will be making their debuts. The UAE finished third in the last edition in Australia in 2015 but their best ever finish was a runners-up spot in 1996 which was also the last and only other time they hosted the tournament. The draw for the tournament will be held on May 4.
By Ashley Hammond