FIFA World Cup AFC Qualifiers: PMNFT Shows Fight in Close Loss to Vietnam

For a few fleeting moments, it looked as if the Philippines would pull off another Miracle in Hanoi.

It wasn’t meant to be for the Philippine Men’s National Football Team (PMNFT) as they dropped a heartbreaking 2-3 decision to hosts Vietnam at My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi to bow out of the 2026 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

Vietnam fully deserved the full three points, but for around three minutes in the second half, it appeared as if the Philippines would pull off another Miracle in Hanoi after veteran Patrick Reichelt collected a long ball from rookie Alex Monis, shook off defender Do Duy Manh, and right-footed the ball past keeper Van Lam Dang to nudge the PMNFT ahead, 1-0, in the 62nd minute.

But the euphoria was short-lived after Nguyen Tien Linh scored off a cross from Nguyen Van Toan to level the count in the 65th minute. Tien Linh would give Vietnam the lead 11 minutes later with a brilliant header, before Kevin Ingreso leveled things again in the 89th minute with a well-placed left-footed strike from the left flank.

The Philippines, though, needed a win to keep their hopes alive, and they continued to press in search of a third goal, but it was Vietnam that got it in the fifth minute of stoppage time after Pham Tuan Hai easily tapped in a rebound off of Neil Etheridge’s save.

While the loss was heartbreaking, the PMNFT put up a much better performance compared to their 0-2 loss to the same squad in Manila in November. Coach Tom Saintfiet overhauled his starting XI, retaining just three players from the March window in an effort to win precious points.

“I think the first half Vietnam was pushing, and had more ball possession, but we were probably more dangerous in some counter-attacks,” Saintfiet said in the post-match press conference. “I think the best result would have been a draw, so I’m very disappointed. Vietnam is a very good team, but I’m also very satisfied with the performance of my team. But yeah, we have to learn from this.”

Fresh blood

In between the March and June windows, Saintfiet went on a recruiting spree, scouring Europe for players with Filipino lineage. In the end, he managed to sign up Zico Bailey, Michael Baldisimo, Adrian Ugelvik, Dylan Demunyck, Monis and Kristoffer Reyes.

Bailey, Demunyck and Monis joined veteran Patrick Reichelt upfront, while Baldisimo patrolled the midfield with Kevin Ingreso and Ugelvik was part of the back four. Reyes was listed as a substitute but did not get to play.

Overall, the newbies did well and didn’t appear to be blinded by the bright lights of My Dinh.

Vietnam’s Nguyen Hoang Duc (L) and Philippines’ Zico Bailey (R) fight for the ball during the 2026 FIFA World Cup AFC qualifiers football match between Vietnam and the Philippines at the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi on June 6, 2024. (Photo by NHAC NGUYEN / AFP)

Bailey, from New Mexico United in the USL Championship, very nearly had a memorable debut for the PMNFT in the 20th minute when he intercepted a lazy pass at midfield and streaked down towards the Vietnam goal with no defender in front of him. But his effort was a little wide to the left, and Vietnam heaved a sigh of relief.

Meanwhile, it was Monis who was credited with the assist that led to Reichelt’s goal. Ugelvik was generally solid in the back line, while Baldisimo and Demunyck showed flashes of brilliance.

No second miracle, but it was close

My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi was the scene of the PMNFT’s (then known as the Azkals) most memorable win: a 2-0 victory in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup that became known as the Miracle in Hanoi. Only one player from that 2010 squad, Neil Etheridge, was on the field on Thursday night.

There were times when it appeared the Philippines would replicate that stunning win. Aside from Bailey’s solo effort, an even better chance in the first half came in the 41st minute when Reichelt just barely got his boot onto Santi Rublico’s cross, his flick missing by mere inches.

Curiously, Rublico started at right back, a departure from his usual position a little further up the field. Eventually, though, he inevitably found his way into the heart of the offense.

This loss extended the Philippines’ losing streak to Vietnam to 12 years, while also keeping them winless so far in the second round of the AFC Qualifiers. But this was perhaps the best form the national XI has shown in recent memory, and if this promising core can be kept intact for the next few years, a turnaround could come sooner rather than later.

The PMNFT will still play Indonesia on June 11 in Jakarta at the massive Gelora Bung Karno Stadium with nothing to lose. The Merah Putih, though, will be coming into that match in search of a win after they were blanked by Iraq, 0-2, to put their own qualifying bid in jeopardy.

Banner images from AFP.

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