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Philippine Azkals defeat Tajikistan, qualify for AFC Asian Cup for first time

The Philippine Azkals made Philippine football history by qualifying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup for the first time by squeaking past Tajikistan, 2-1, Tuesday at Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

Fittingly, it was Phil Younghusband, the face of the Azkals for the past 13 years, who booked the team's ticket to the United Arab Emirates with a penalty kick in the 89th minute. It was Younghusband's 50th international goal.

Kevin Ingreso evened things up for the Azkals in the 73rd minute with a beautiful header off a cross from Iana Ramsay, eight minutes after he had conceded a penalty kick that Tajikistan converted.

The Azkals finished with 12 points and first place in Group F, and more importantly, a ticket to the AFC Asian Cup next year.

Needing just a draw to qualify, the Azkals were aggressive from the get-go. Ramsay had the first shot on goal in the 18th minute but his volley from the left flank was deflected out by Tajik goalkeeper Mahkamov Abduaziz.

In the 38th, a corner from Mike Ott found Simone Rota wide open 10 yards from the goal, but the defender overcooked his volley and sent it sailing above the crossbar.

Things briefly took a turn in the second half. Tajikistan broke the ice in the 63rd minute after Kevin Ingreso took down Davronov Nuriddin inside the box. Nazarov Akhtam sent Neil Ehteride the wrong way in the resulting penalty kick to put his team ahead.

Just 11 minutes later Ingreso made up for his foul by converting a spectacular header off a cross from Ramsay to even the score at 1-1.

With the clock winding down, Patrick Reichelt was fouled by a high boot in the penalty box, and the referee blew his whistle and pointed to the penalty spot. It was all over, and the boisterous crowd knew it. Younghusband took his familiar spot at the penalty area and calmly sent the ball to the back of the net, the 50th time he has done so for the Azkals. Minutes later, the final whistle blew.

The Azkals celebrated with the nearly 4,600 fans in attendance. The Azkals are now headed to UAE for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.