THE long journey to Abu Dhabi was fittingly sealed by Phil Younghusband's milestone goal as the Philippine Azkals punched a ticket to the 2019 Asian Cup with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Tajikistan on Tuesday at the Rizal Stadium.
Younghusband netted the 50th goal of his international career in the 90th minute to formalize the Philippines' entry to the Asian Cup, the first time in the country's history that it will be making an appearance in the grandest football stage of Asia.
Kevin Ingreso equalized for the Azkals in the 74th minute to ease the anxiety of the home crowd, just 10 minutes after he committed a foul which led to a Tajik penalty.
"I just want to say one thing, this is the best team that we had, this is the best camp that we had in four years. Everything is positive," said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley.
"That's what the team is about. Everybody works. This is amazing. We talked about that before the game. If you are positive, you can't lose," he added.
Azkals needed only a draw to advance, but Ingreso was assessed with a foul inside the box and Akhtam Nazarov scored from the spot in the 64th minute to leave the hosts on the back foot.
Ingreso, however, was quick to make up for that as he headed in a beautiful cross from Iain Ramsay which sent the 4,671 people in attendance into a frenzy.
"We were positive. We kept on pushing forward. We knew we still had the chance," said Ingreso.
"I made that mistake. A clear foul. I was totally down for a few minutes but my teammates just kept picking me up and I was just the lucky one who hit that goal," he added.
Younghusband's milestone moment came when a handball was called on Tajikistan. The Azkals skipper, making his 97th cap for the Azkals, calmly sank the penalty past the Tajik keeper to clinch the victory.
The match, however, was marred by a near brawl involving Dennis Villanueva and Fathuloev Fathullo in injury time after the Tajik midfielder appeared to have hit Villanueva.
Both players were expelled with straight red cards.