AFF Suzuki Cup 2018: Eight years on, Azkals need another “Miracle of Hanoi”

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan looks at why Philippines need another “Miracle of Hanoi” when they take on Vietnam in the semi-finals of AFF Suzuki Cup 2018.

It has been eight years now since the Philippine football had arguably its greatest moment.

It was the day – December 6, 2010 – when they emerged from the shadows of being perennial underdogs and started their rise to becoming genuine heavyweights in Southeast Asia.

Dubbed the “Miracle of Hanoi”, the Azkals stunned the whole of the region when they claimed a 2-0 triumph over reigning champions Vietnam on their own turf in front of a partisan crowd of 40,000, which went a long way in securing their progress to the semi-finals for the first time in their history.

A lot has happened since then but, just as they did eight years ago, Philippines are in the semi-finals of the Suzuki Cup and Vietnam are once again standing in between them and history.

Should the Azkals see off the Vietnamese over two legs on December 2 and 6, they will grace the final of Southeast Asia’s premier international tournament for the first time ever.

There can be no argument that Philippines have grown from strength to strength since that monumental feat in 2010 and are now comfortably a match for Vietnam, so why are they still in need of another miracle?

For the simple fact that coach Sven-Goran Eriksson now has just 19 players from his original 23 to choose from and that is not counting inspirational captain Phil Younghusband, who came off in the first half in Sunday’s 0-0 draw against Indonesia with a nasty head injury.

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Through to the Semi Finals of the @affsuzukicup 💪🏼 It wasn’t easy coming out of a tough group. But huge credit goes to the players, staff and management for all their hard work. It will only get harder from now as we face Vietnam in a 2 legged semi-final. The first game at Pa-naad Stadium in Bacolod on Dec 2 and the 2nd game in Vietnam on the 6th. Hoping we can fill Pa-naad Stadium on the 2nd and we can make it an intimidating place to play for the away side. Please support us in our pursuit to make Philippine football history ⚽️🇵🇭 Just to let everyone know the head injury I sustained last night is feeling much better today. I had 4 stitches and I should be okay for the next game. If you swipe left, you’ll see a video of the wound being cleaned. There is a little blood so if you are not keen on seeing blood, then don’t swipe haha 😂 I think the Doc did a pretty good job here in Jakarta so thank you Doc 😊👍🏽 Thank you to everyone for all your support. Maraming maraming salamat sa supporta 😁 @theazkals #soccer #football #sports #southeastasia #malaysia #philippines #indonesia #thailand #vietnam #timorleste #cambodia #laos #singapore #myanmar #affsuzukicup #semifinal #tournament #win

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Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, left-back Daisuke Sato and central midfielder John-Patrick Strauss have returned to their respective clubs following the conclusion of the official FIFA international match dates, denying Philippines the services of three players that would have otherwise been automatic starters in the first XI.

Utility player Luke Woodland has also been ruled out for the remainder of the tournament after picking up an injury against Singapore.

So, undermanned and coming up against one of the favourites of the tournament with a full array of quality players to pick from, do the Azkals stand a chance?

Yes, because credit to team manager Dan Palami, Eriksson and his coaching staff, they have already prepared for these absences – perhaps with the exception of Strauss.

Despite being available for the second game before heading back to Cardiff, Etheridge had to settle for a place on the bench and it was Michael Falkesgaard, the likely first-choice for the rest of the tournament, was introduced to settle into the side.

Whether it be due to form or other reasons, Sato did not start the opener and while Martin Steuble and Paul Mulders are both midfielders by trade, the Azkals know they can rely on the duo to get the job done in defensive positions.

Although Philippines certainly have no shortage of quality now, one of their most defining qualities remain their fighting spirit which is befitting of their nickname – with “Azkals” literally meaning street dogs.

It may have started out from being minnows fighting for little more than pride, but it is now serving them well as they battle to become kings of Southeast Asia.

This never-say-die attitude means that Philippines fans have every reason to believe in their chances of beating Vietnam, even if they will have to do it undermanned without several key players.

Back in 2010, an amazing result for Philippines football was simply winning a group-stage game against a team they had never beaten before.

Eight years on, the stakes are considerably higher with a Suzuki Cup final berth up for grabs.

At least in the Suzuki Cup alone, considering they have also qualified for next January’s AFC Asian Cup 2019, it is time for the Azkals to give their fans a bigger moment than that 2-0 win over Vietnam.

And, quite poetically, the one thing that could just eclipse that is another “Miracle of Hanoi”.