Azkals looking to elevate PH football to new heights vs. Tajikistan

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Azkals are one game away from elevating Philippine football to a level of competition that is reserved for only Asia's best.

On Tuesday, the Philippines will host Tajikistan in their final game of the 2019 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup qualifiers at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

The Filipinos only need to secure a draw against Tajikistan to qualify for the Asian Cup and rub elbows with powerhouses such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia.

Here's the complete Azkals roster:

  • Neil Etheridge
  • Nick O'Donnell
  • Patrick Deyto
  • Daisuke Sato
  • Carlie De Murga
  • Simone Rota
  • Jeff Christiaens
  • Sean Kane
  • Dennis Villanueva
  • Manny Ott
  • Mike Ott
  • Iain Ramsay
  • Kevin Ingreso
  • Paul Mulders
  • Patrick Reichelt
  • Dylan De Bruycker
  • Pika Minegishi
  • Jess Melliza
  • Phil Younghusband
  • James Younghusband
  • Misagh Bahadoran
  • Javier Patino

The last time the Philippines came close was in 2014, when the Azkals fell short in the Finals against Palestine.

A win would have seen the Philippines qualify for the 2015 edition of the AFC Asian Cup.

"We want to be seen moving to the next step, moving to the next level. The last opportunity was the Challenge Cup Final, which unfortunately didn't get the result we wanted," Azkals captain Phil Younghusband said. "This is another chance, another opportunity to do that."

Philippine football has grown leaps and bounds in the domestic level since 2014, with clubs like Ceres-Negros and Global FC representing the country in tournaments abroad.

But for the national team, there have been disappointments such as failing to advance to the semifinals of the 2016 Suzuki Cup, despite hosting the tournament.

Younghusband acknowledged that making the Finals and winning the competition would be the next step in the Suzuki Cup, but the match against Tajikistan is an opportunity to make the footballing world take notice.

"For us to be amongst the best teams in Asia, for us to show the rest of the world and Asia that the Philippines is present in world football, I think that would be the next big achievement for us," Younghusband said.

Last time the Philippines and Tajikistan met was in Dushanbe, with the Azkals eking out a 4-3 victory.

After missing action due to injury, Filipino striker Javier Patiño and Manny Ott are available for selection and could be the difference-makers against Tajikistan.

"The last few games where we would have gotten a win instead of a draw, this game would mean nothing to us and we can relax," Younghusband said. "Had they been available, who knows? That could have been the difference between a win and a draw."

The Philippines will find out on Tuesday night whether the returning players can make a difference, and qualify for the Asian Cup outright.

Should the Azkals lose they still have a chance of qualifying for the tournament, but that will be predicated upon if Nepal can draw or beat Yemen in Oman later that evening.