To athletes and fans alike, a 0-0 on the scoreboard is simply considered a tie. But last October 8, 2015, when our Philippine national football team, fondly known as the Azkals, went up against the arguably more dominant North Korean team on their home field and pushed the game to a scoreless draw, our country felt nothing but sheer victory.
Filipinos rallying in the stands at Pyongyang, cheering back home, and streaming the match all over the world, expressed their happiness and pride through posts on social media.
Dint get a chance to congratulate our Azkals for holding North Korea to a tie yesterday in the WC Qualifier. Stunning indeed!
Dint get a chance to congratulate our Azkals for holding North Korea to a tie yesterday in the WC Qualifier. Stunning indeed!— Chot Reyes (@coachot) October 9, 2015
Full time, scoreless draw for the Azkals and North Korea!!!❤️ WE BELIEVE!!!????????
Full time, scoreless draw for the Azkals and North Korea!!!❤️ WE BELIEVE!!!????????— Francesca Litton (@CheckLit) October 8, 2015
And the reason for this shared positive sentiment is rooted in a narrative we as a country know all too well: the story of the underdog. The first time the Azkals went up against North Korea, they lost 0-2 in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal. Back then, official FIFA rankings North Korea held its place at #99 while the Philippines was a distant #147.
The North Korean team has proven their worth on the field numerous times; besides having gone on to play at the Olympics, they have also competed for the World Cup in 2010. The Philippine national football team, on the other hand, despite being one of the oldest national football teams in Asia, has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup or the AFC Asian Cup. But thanks to the recent draw between the two teams, all that could very well change.
With two points, a draw, and a loss, the Philippines currently has 7 points and holds 3rd place in Group H of the FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, and has two more games against Bahrain and Uzbekistan coming up. Although it appears that the Azkals have lost their chance to qualify for the World Cup, the team can still play for a slot at the 2019 Asian Cup. To date, official FIFA rankings show the Philippines at #134, a 13-point climb over just three years.
“It was a very difficult game,” said Azkals Coach Thomas Dooley in an interview with the Inquirer about the country’s recent match against North Korea. “But the team fought and never gave up.”
Coach Dooley summed up what has made the Azkals the Philippines’ champions: perseverance and determination. These values may not have made us win the uphill challenge on the global sporting stage yet, but they’re definitely helping us push forward and soldier on—until the day we make our lasting mark on the field, and when a draw truly becomes a win.