Lalitpur: Philippines captain Phil Younghusband is hoping to bury the disappointment of missing out on the AFC Asian Cup in 2015 by leading his country to the Finals in 2019 with victory over Nepal in Group F on Tuesday evening.
A win would take Thomas Dooley’s team to the nation’s first-ever continental Finals after narrowly missing out on a place in Australia 2015, when they finished as runners-up behind Palestine at the AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives in 2014.
The Azkals can advance with a win over Nepal while second-placed Yemen take on Tajikistan, who currently occupy third, with both teams on six points, two fewer than the Philippines.
“We were so close in 2014 at the AFC Challenge Cup, losing in the final to Palestine,” said Younghusband (pictured above, centre).
“With the players that we have, with the team that we had, probably for some of the players that was still their biggest disappointment. That was a huge opportunity to play in Australia in the Asian Cup.
“We understand that the qualification format has changed and we’ve had a good draw. I think this is as good as any chance for us to qualify so I’m not even thinking about the possibility of us not qualifying.
“We had a chance to qualify in the last game (a 1-1 draw with Yemen) in Qatar. We didn't do it there. We don’t want to wait until the last game to qualify. We want to make sure this will be the time that we’ll be talking about playing in the Asian Cup in 2019.
“It would be great in the game if we get an early goal. The longer the game goes that we’re not scoring, the pressure will be bigger. But with the squad that we have, the players we have we should qualify.”
Coach Dooley backed up his captain and the former United States international has set his sights on all three points in Lalitpur.
“We have to win the game, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “We have to look for options who can play like we need a target player up front and there’s James Younghusband, who can score goals.
“Together with Mike Ott, they can feed each other with Phil right behind them and supporting them. That’s what we’re hoping to accomplish.”
Nepal, who won the AFC Solidarity Cup in Malaysia last year, have already been eliminated and their Japanese coach Koji Gyotoku is concerned over the loss of several players due to injury.
“We had very good regular training for the last one month, but we have been hit by injuries to our key defenders Devendra Tamang and Aditya Chaudhary,” he said.
“We have had problems in the defence and with Tamang and Chaudhary out of the squad now, we have been trying to fix the hole.
"We have worked on tightening the defence for Tuesday's game. We want to see our team bridge the gap on Philippines in terms of performance level.”
Yemen, meanwhile, will take on a resurgent Tajikistan knowing a win would seal their place at the Finals, too, with the teams currently level on six points each.
Abraham Mebratu’s side won the first meeting between the teams on Matchday One and the coach is aiming to maintain his side’s unbeaten run so far in qualifying for UAE 2019.
“We need to go into this game with a lot of concentration because we need to show a lot of commitment to win this game,” he said. “I hope that the players will be ready to take three points.
“We will go into the game with a lot of ambition because we are yet to lose in the qualifiers or since I took charge of the team in the playoffs against the Maldives and that is an important thing for us.
“We have prepared well and, regardless of our results in friendly matches, our aim is to perform well in our next game.”