The Miracle of Hanoi marked a new dawn for Philippine football, and its effects continue to be felt until today.
December 5, 2010 — a date that is etched in the history of local sports. This was the day the Philippine Men’s National Football Team pulled off one of the greatest upsets of Philippine football.
Playing in the AFF Suzuki Cup, the Azkals had to defeat Vietnam to keep them in the running for the knockout stages of the competition. The odds were stacked against the Filipino booters. For one thing, Vietnam was the defending champion and was on top of their group, and for another, the Vietnamese had the advantage of playing at home at the My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi. The Philippines were not favorites to advance past the group stage, as they also had to face three-time champions, Singapore. On top of this, they had never defeated Vietnam before.
But this is exactly why they call December 5, 2010 the ‘Miracle of Hanoi’.
Remembering the miracle
The Azkals walked into My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi to 40,000 spectators. A large majority were likely locals of Vietnam, where football is very popular. On the other hand, at the time, football had not quite taken off yet in the Philippines. But what was to follow was going to change that.
In the first half, the Philippines were aggressive on the attack and were the first ones to create a chance to score. However, Vietnam did not make it easy and was also giving the Filipino defenders a run for their money as they attempted to take the lead first. But just a few minutes before the end of the first half, Chris Greatwich scored for the Azkals. The Philippines entered halftime with a 1-0 lead.
Naturally, Vietnam stormed in the second half desperate to equalize. But despite their numerous attempts, the Philippines still managed to hold on to their slim lead. Filipino keeper Neil Etheridge made a huge save when one of Vietnam’s subs made a promising attempt two minutes after taking the field.
Whoever was watching in support of the Azkals surely must have been praying for the clock to reach 90 sooner, being just one goal up. Thankfully, however, Phil Younghusband scored the dagger that would seal the deal for the Philippine side. With a goal in the 79th minute, the Azkals were 2-0 up over the defending champions.
When the final whistle blew through the air, the Azkals celebrated their huge victory — an upset over the tournament favorites.
Following this win, along with a draw against Myanmar, the Filipino men did enough to advance to the semifinals. Though they eventually crashed out of the competition with two losses to Indonesia, somehow, that did not matter as much as the effects that the Miracle of Hanoi would have on Philippine football in the years to come.
The resurgence of Philippine football
Prior to the Miracle of Hanoi, football in the Philippines barely had the public support that it does today.
Cedelf Tupas, who now works as the Media Officer for the Women’s National Football Team, put it best when he recalled the historic date 11 years ago: “The 2-0 victory opened the floodgates for the Azkals, then coached by Simon McMenemy, and for football in the country, spurring unprecedented support for a sport that has long been in the doldrums.”
Following the 2-0 victory, the Azkals saw a huge uptick in support. Suddenly, Filipino fans were open to traveling all the way from Metro Manila to the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan just to watch them play. And the results continued to come in, as well. Players like Phil and James Younghusband became household names across the country. Kids were wearing Azkals jerseys.
What the world already saw as ‘The Beautiful Game’, more Filipinos were finally beginning to understand. And the Azkals continued to bring in an era of improvements and successions to keep this beating heart alive.
The Azkals would go on to qualify for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup and managed to advance to the second round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. And although their appearances in regional competitions still have yet to produce a trophy — their best performance was a runner-up finish in the AFC Challenge Cup — since the Miracle of Hanoi, the stream of successes has been steadier.
Indeed, the 2010s was a renaissance period for Philippine football. Admittedly, however, the peak in interest did take a dip in the 2020s, especially when the pandemic hit. However, with the Women’s National Team making waves and the Men’s side about to take on another round of World Cup Qualifiers as of writing, the fanbase and hunger for Philippine football has again been on the rise and we may be heading into a new era once again.
Banner image from FIFA.