The World Cup dream might be over for the Philippine national team, but the team can take some positives away from its qualification performance. They were able to score an impressive win over both North Korea (3-2) at home and played them to a draw in Pyongyang.
There were also some duds in there, of course, including a 5-1 setback to Uzbekistan at home, and the team is not playing with the necessary consistency to make the jump from an also-ran to a true contender in the Asian Football Confederation.
This Friday, the team will face Bahrain in a friendly. These squads were in the same group in Round 3 of the AFC World Cup qualifiers and split their pair of games, with each team winning on home soil. Indeed, the teams only won two road games, combined, in the qualifiers, and both of those came against last-place Yemen. With Friday’s game in Manila, the Philippines should have a distinct edge.
Yet, is this really the type of game that’s going to take the team to the next level? As the squad showed against North Korea, it’s capable of keeping up with Asia’s stronger nations. As they showed in a 1-0 home loss to Yemen, it’s also capable of playing down to its competition.
The best teams in Asia are Japan and South Korea, who are among the top-25 in the odds to win the 2018 World Cup.
Guess what the Philippines’ record is in the last 16 years against Japan and South Korea: 0-0.
That’s right. They haven’t played a single game against the upper crust of Asian football since the millennium started.
The best way to improve is to play teams that will really challenge you.
The Philippine Football Federation has done a nice job assembling talent, bringing in players of from around the globe of Filipino heritage. Now it needs to start scheduling more aggressively and giving its motley crew a chance to show the likes of Japan and South Korea that they can keep up.
Understandably, Japan and South Korea will want to employ the same strategy; they’ll want to play the best of the best in order to make their own teams better. So, for the Philippines, that puts all the more import on games like Friday’s match. If they can’t take care of business on home turf against Bahrain, why would the Asian powers give them the time of day?