UAE-BOUND! | Azkals seal historic Asian Cup qualification with comeback win over Tajikistan

UAE-BOUND! | Azkals seal historic Asian Cup qualification with comeback win over Tajikistan

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By Kevin Estrada

MANILA -- We made it.

The Philippines summoned what "PUSO" is all about, coming back from the dead to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup for the very first time, taking down Tajikistan in a 2-1 win on a Holy Tuesday night at the Rizal Memorial.

With a resolve tested after conceding a penalty, the Azkals were egged on by the 4,761-strong crowd that packed the fabled grandstand to the brim to create a historic feat for Filipino football, winning the Group F with an unbeaten slate on 12 points after six matches.

The win also sends Yemen through to UAE as well even if they lose to lowly Nepal later Tuesday as they take the final spot courtesy of their better head-to-head record against the Central Asian side in the qualifying campaign.

It was an even affair at the hour mark until Tajikistan scored first from the spot in the 64th minute when defender Akhtam Nazarov sent Neil Etheridge the opposite way after his skipper Nuriddin Davronov was tripped down in the box by Kevin Ingreso.

But it was the Ceres-Negros midfielder that ignited a late comeback, heading home an Iain Ramsay cross past Abduaziz Makharov 10 minutes later to equalize.

Afterwards, the comeback was completed at the stroke of full time.

Patrick Reichelt got the high boot call against Nazarov in the box that set the stage for Phil Younghusband to create another piece of history.

The skipper did not let the entire nation down, tucking in the resulting penalty for his 50th international strike that proved to be the coup de grace.

Tempers then flared deep into stoppage time as Fathullo Fathulloev and Dennis Villanueva were sent off following a brawl that erupted after the former slapped Carli De Murga on the back of his head.

Yet it did not dampen the mood of the Manila crowd as they celebrated the magic feat in the most solemn and holiest week of the year.

Follow him on Twitter: @KevinLEstrada

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