THE only thing separating the Philippine Azkals from making history is a good result against Tajikistan when the two teams clash in the final match of the 2019 Asian Cup Qualifiers on Tuesday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
A draw would be enough for the Azkals to qualify for the Asian Cup and erase the bitter memories of 2014 Challenge Cup where they were narrowly beaten by Palestine, 1-0, and failed to qualify for the largest continental tournament in Asia in 2015.
Despite the gravity of the match, Azkals team owner Dan Palami urged his squad to keep focus on the task at hand and not be distracted with the historical impact of the match.
"I don't want the players to look at the historical significance of the game," said Palami. "Just get the job done. It's just one game, get that win and the historical impact is the consequence of the game. Let's not look at that. Let's look at the game and get a good result."
In hindsight, the Azkals should have qualified a long time ago but settled for three straight draws to open the window for Tajikistan to sneak in and get that win.
With nine points, the worst case scenario for the Azkals is for them to lose the game and a win for Yemen, which is heavily favored in their match against Nepal.
Should that happen, the Azkals would drop to third place while Yemen and Tajikistan qualify.
The good news for the Azkals is that they know that they can beat Tajikistan, having barged into Dushanbe last year and take a 4-3 result.
This came after an 8-1 drubbing at the hands of China in their friendly a week before the match, a situation that could be compared to their alarming 3-2 win over Fiji last week.
Head coach Thomas Dooley, however, isn't worried at all.
"We came out and a got a bad result against China and we played one of our best games against Tajikistan later," Dooley said.
"We just have to focus on the task at hand, I'm confident that this is the best team that could take us to that next level."