116: Weighing the Philippines’ Highest FIFA Ranking

116: Weighing the Philippines’ Highest FIFA Ranking

As the final whistle was blown last week at Rizal Memorial Stadium, there was pure jubilation because of what had transpired. The Philippines has just beaten DPR Korea a two-time World Cup participant. To make that even sweeter, it was to the score of 3-2 with the winning goal coming in right at the 90th minute mark as Iain Ramsay poked the ball into the back of the net. The win was a record-breaking moment for Philippine football.

Fast forward to yesterday’s FIFA rankings when the Philippines claimed another record. The country, which has been steadily improving in the rankings for the past few years, jumped 19 places to go 116th overall. It is the highest ranking that the Philippines has garnered in the rankings eclipsing their previous record of 124th last year.

The win over DPR Korea sent shockwaves throughout the South East Asia as the Philippines again claimed the title as the number one ranked side in the region. Reigning AFF Suzuki Cup winners Thailand, who themselves had made headlines as they advanced to both the final round of the World Cup Qualifiers and the Asian Cup, are three places behind at 119.

Despite not advancing to the next round of the World Cup Qualifiers, the Philippines still had a stellar campaign in the World Cup/Asian Cup Qualifiers. The Azkals won their first two games of the Qualifiers against Bahrain and Yemen. They were humbled as Uzbekistan defeated them at home, 1-5. They faced their toughest opposition in DPR Korea and went home with a point in Pyongyang. Two straight defeats to Bahrain and Yemen all but ended their World Cup hopes.

The 0-1 loss to Uzbekistan in Tashkent again showed that the Azkals can battle against the top nations in Asia. They showed it again by beating DPR Korea, 3-2, in the final game of the Qualifiers last week. They also ended the World Cup aspirations of the North Koreans along the way.

The win over DPR Korea meant a lot to the team’s progression under Coach Thomas Dooley. A big factor that has seen the Azkals from South East Asia’s perennial whipping boys to contender status is the way Dooley has handled the team since landing the job in 2014. Under Dooley, the Philippines have made strides in terms of player development which has seen the likes of Manny Ott and Misagh Bahadoran bringing the team to greater heights.

Dooley was more than delighted with the progression in the rankings. “(The rankings boost) is the bonus you get when you prepare like a professional player,” said the former United States captain. “The last 2 games against Uzbekistan and DPR Korea served as a wake up call for most of the players.”

However, a bigger question still looms about the Azkals’ pedigree. Despite the achievement in the rankings, the Philippines still lag behind their South East Asian neighbors in terms of title credentials. Countries like Vietnam (2008), Malaysia (2010), Singapore (2012), and Thailand (2014) are all below the Philippines but they have already won the AFF Suzuki Cup. The Azkals have yet to get past the semifinal round or even score a goal in the knockout stages.

With the Philippines hosting the group stages of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup later this year, the Azkals are in a position where they can finally end the wait for a major title. The local football scene has hugely improved the level of football in the country and two of the UFL clubs, Ceres-La Salle FC and Kaya FC, are making waves in the AFC Cup. With the Asian Cup Qualifiers slated for 2017, the Azkals can hopefully prioritize their preparations for the upcoming Suzuki Cup.

The time is nigh for the national team to land the trophy and it is realistically within reach. Whatever good the rankings are in attracting better competition, a championship, or a spot in the 2019 Asian Cup, may potentially cement this team’s legacy. — CAL

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