2018 proved to be quite the mixed bag for the Philippines, with an impressive showing from the national team severely offset by the unmitigated disaster that was the Philippines Football League.
Here, FOX Sports Asia rates and slates Philippines football, drawing positives and identifying the key areas that need addressing after an entertaining year of football.
The National Team
2018 began in the perfect fashion for the Philippines, with a narrow win over Tajikistan ensuring qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
Heading into the must-win game, two points separated the two teams in what essentially boiled down to a winner-take-all bloodbath.
As always, it was Philippines legend Phil Younghusband who delivered the goods, his stoppage-time penalty filling Azkals fans’ hearts with joy.
Having missed out on World Cup qualification, the Azkals then set their sights on the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup.
The arrival of revered coach Sven-Goran Eriksson added to the hype surrounding the nation going into the competition and they did not disappoint, making the semifinals where they crashed out to eventual winners Vietnam.
It was mostly doom and gloom for Philippines’ youth teams. The u23 side failed to secure a berth in the 2018 Asian Games after being barred from participating in the competition by the Asian Games Task Force headed by the Philippine Olympic Committee.
The Teen Azkals fared no better. At the 2018 AFF U-16 Youth Championship, Philippines U16 ended up losing every single game, scoring three goals and conceding a whopping 30. It was a harsh reality check, reminding them just how far they are from being a competitive force, and serving as a stark reminder to the PFF just how much focus needs to go into youth development.
The U21 side was a mess as well, although they did secure a solitary victory in the 2018 AFF U-19 Youth Championship.
The current state of affairs is not promising and there is a lot of work to be done if Philippines are to continue growing once the era of the Younghusbands is done and dusted.
Philippines Football League
While the national team continued to carry the flag high, the Philippines Football League continued to be plagued by controversy.
Poor financial backing amongst a host of other issues meant FC Meralco Manila and Ilocos United F.C withdrew from the league, leaving it with only six participants.
The lack of quality was clearly evident, with a huge gulf in class between the participating teams. Ceres Negros breezed to a second title, finishing as many as 11 points ahead of second-placed Kaya–Iloilo. Global Cebu proved to be the whipping boys, managing just a solitary win in 25 games.
Much to the delight of fans though, a decision was made to scrap the PFL, which will be replaced by a brand-new, much more lucrative league set for lift-off in March 2019.
What’s new in 2019?
2019 will begin with a lot of positives for the Philippines. The 2019 AFC Asian Cup beckons Sven Goran Eriksson’s men for the first time ever. The Azkals will be making their bow in the competition, having qualified for the first time in 17 editions of the continental competition.
While they have been grouped with China, South Korea and Kyrgyz Republic and head into the competition as massive underdogs, they might just be able to spring a surprise or two, but even if they don’t it still represents a watershed moment in Filipino football.
2019 will also witness a brand new domestic league, with the Philippines Football League set to be replaced by the Philippines Premier League with the aim of developing the sport in the nation.
While the news of Davao Aguilas’ exit was met with some dismay – the league currently has just five teams slated to take part – the new league promises to be a major upgrade on the shambolic PFL.
Moving on, the 2019 Southeast Asian Games will be hosted by the Philippines. While the U23 side hasn’t filled fans with too much hope, they have still received plenty of support and that should inspire them to put their best foot forward.
FOX Sports Asia Report Card Rating: C
The Azkals continued to be the lone ray of sunshine for Philippines football, with the youth system in a mess and the league an unprecedented disaster.
2019 promises a lot more, with a historic Asian Cup debut and the commencement of the Phillipines Premier League, so there is something to look forward to for Philippines fans.