Philippines vs Iraq

FOOTBALL: Coach Saintfiet’s Positive Takeaways From the Philippines’ 5-0 Loss to Iraq

Despite a 5-0 loss to Iraq at home, the Philippine Men’s National Football Team remains optimistic in their World Cup qualifiers campaign.

The Philippine Men’s National Football Team (PMNFT) suffered a tough loss in front of a home crowd of 10,014 fans in Rizal Memorial Stadium — a 5-0 defeat to Iraq in the joint 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers on Tuesday, March 27. With this defeat, the Philippines still remain winless in Group F and their chances of advancing hang in the balance.

This result marks Tom Saintfiet’s first home game as the new head coach of the PMNFT, and it was a first he will surely remember. “This was the biggest defeat ever in my life as a coach,” he shared in a post-match press conference.

“We got an uppercut, we are down, and I am frustrated, I can tell you that. But it doesn’t bring anything to stay in your frustration. You have to use weaknesses and strengths to grow as a team.”

With this sentiment, despite suffering a five-goal beating by the visitors early today, Saintfiet made sure to list down the positives he and the team are taking from this match.

Players showing promise

Saintfiet emphasized the positive attributes of his players during today’s match. “[The team was] trying to create more chances, trying to play more football than in Iraq, we had more ball possession, we created chances in the first half…We had several good actions by a lot of young players.”

Two players stood out to Saintfiet: Jarvey Gayoso, whose speed down the line could have opened up several chances, and Santi Rublico, who took the Philippines’ best chance at scoring before Iraq’s keeper blocked his strike.

“Gayoso is a quality player and he did a fantastic job today, just like he did in Basra. Santi, he’s young…and I think he was one of the best players on the pitch.

“If you see today, Gayoso’s playing shows that there is quality in the local league…We can develop on that part.”

With standout players proving their place on the squad in today’s match, Saintfiet remains optimistic in how these talents will continue to develop, especially as the team prepares for the next set of matches taking place in June.

Jarvey Gayoso in the Philippines' home match against Iraq.
Jarvey Gayoso in the Philippines’ home match against Iraq.
Still in the battle

Even though the Philippines still has yet to pick up a win in the Qualifiers, the National Team is still in the running to advance to the next stage of the tournament. As it turns out, Iraq’s 5-0 victory is promising for the Philippines, as the head coach himself expressed, “I hope that Iraq will keep doing their beauty and try and beat Indonesia and Vietnam.”

If this should happen, come the next window, if the Philippines also wins against Vietnam and Indonesia, then the squad still stands a good chance of advancing to the next round. And the team is not giving up hope.

“We will stand up, we will analyze, and we will be ready for our opponents in the near future,” said Saintfiet. “As long as we have hope, as long as we have life, we are not dead.”

Sharing this sentiment, Gayoso also shared the positives that he and the players are taking away from the match: “We can still be competitive, we have a core, good support, good staff, and we’re still positive and looking forward.”

Next steps are clear

Reflecting on the loss, Saintfiet shared, “I think we lost today by that kind of number because of mistakes. Every time we made a mistake, almost every time, they killed us and they scored…We were less focused and making more mistakes.”

But despite the mistakes made today, the coaching staff already have their next steps in place. “Even before this game, weeks and months before, we were already planning ahead.”

A huge part of Saintfiet’s vision for the team is building up more talent. With this, he revealed that the team has been in contact with several local players, as well as players from all over the world who can represent the Philippines. The team’s goal is to put together more players to develop more talent.

“We already have confirmation of six [international] players who are ready to play in June for us, so in two months, I expect that I have several options more.”

On top of this Saintfiet also shared that he is excited to attend matches of all the teams in the upcoming Philippines Football League (PFL) season, as he is eager to discover more homegrown talents like those who have impressed him already on his current squad.

All of this is a part of the head coach’s long-term plans to create a continuous football program for the country.

“I can tell you I would not have resigned by contract until August 2026 with Gambia to come here for two months so I agree to a long-term commitment to the Philippines…

“I know we were not in full strength now. I know this was only the first game that we had together so we had to fix some things in a very short period of time without any preparation and practice so I think it can only go upwards.”

Passion from the fans

Finally, Tom Saintfiet could not go without thanking the 10,014 fans who showed up at Rizal Memorial Stadium to cheer on the team, as well as the thousands of other fans who tuned in from everywhere else.

“I think it’s our duty that we thank our fans,” he said. “I would like to start [by saying] my apologies to the tens of thousands of fans who watched in the stadium and to the fans who watched from home. My apologies for the big defeat, and also my thanks for the support. The fans were behind us for the whole 90 minutes and I really would like to thank them.

Fans at the Philippines vs Iraq World Cup Qualifier match
A crowd of 10,014 came to support the Philippine Men’s National Football Team.

This being his first experience playing in front of a home crowd, even in defeat, he could not help but feel awestruck by the passionate fans who continued to cheer as loudly as possible even five goals down.

“I really love the atmosphere they create in the stadium, it’s a real football atmosphere, many countries don’t have that…

“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, you stick together, and that’s what we did.”

Images courtesy of the Philippine Football Federation.

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