Philippines Looks Ahead To Iraq Rematch After Close Loss

Despite yielding a late goal to the higher-ranked hosts Iraq, the Philippine men’s football team can still hold their heads high.

The Philippine men’s national football team put up a brave fight in front of over 63,000 Iraq fans but ultimately yielded a tough 0-1 loss to the hosts in their FIFA World Cup 2026 Asian Qualifiers match in Baghdad early Friday morning (Manila time).

Forward Mohanad Ali Kadhim beat Neil Etheridge to the ball in the 84th minute to lob it into the back of the net and give the Lions of Mesopotamia the full three points in their Group F clash. It was a deserving win for Iraq, which dominated possession and now have nine points in their group that also includes Indonesia and Vietnam.

The two sides will face each other again on March 26, this time at the Rizal Football Stadium, with the Philippines still in search of their first win after drawing with Indonesia and losing to Vietnam in the November window.

It was the first international outing for the Philippines under new coach Tom Saintfiet, who was appointed less than a month ago. Iraq is ranked 59th by FIFA, 80 notches higher than the Philippines, so while the final score was tighter than what most pundits expected, Saintfiet found no solace in the result.

“I’m not happy with the loss because I hate losing,” he said in the post-game press conference. “But I’m very proud of the performance of my team. I knew that we would play against a strong team. As I told you, I am a big fan of Iraqi football. I think there are so many quality players and if you see the pitch, the stadium, the fantastic fans, it’s world-class level.”

Philippines vs. Iraq: Tom Saintfet
Philippine men’s football coach Tom Saintfiet (right). Photo courtesy of PFF

Saintfiet said their game plan was executed for the most part, except when they conceded the lone goal so late in the match.

“I think the Philippines can compete and the goal was to try a point. Like I said, my team did very well but one moment of lack of concentration and the opposing team utilized it.

“The Iraqi team, for most of the time, had no solution against the tactical discipline of the Philippines. We analyzed Iraq. We knew the qualities of Iraq, the wingbacks, and the wings. We tried to close the errors and it was clear that for them most of the time, Iraq had no answer but they won so in the end, they did everything right.”

Still, it was a promising performance considering this current roster only came together a few days ago in a training camp in Dubai.

“We started three days ago, I saw my players for the first time,” Saintfiet said. “Some on Monday and some on Tuesday. The progress is very good.”

Despite absorbing a second loss in three matches, the Philippines is still in the hunt for one of the two Group F slots into the third round, although the margin of error has shrunk.

“I think we need to be competitive with Vietnam and Indonesia and I’m impressed with my players that in a short period of time, we could be difficult opponents for Iraq but in five days’ time, we will play again and we need to be fresh,” Saintfiet said. “Hopefully, we get to surprise Iraq in Manila again.”

Banner image courtesy of PFF

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