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Azkals fall short

I WAS excited for this match against Thailand. I felt that we could make history with another huge upset. Is it wrong to think that? Not at all. After all, the Azkals have come a long way. But for a team that is much deeper and stronger, we let in two goals. Two years ago, we never let two goals go past the keeper.

 

You’ll say the past is the past and today is different. Sure it is. And if that is so, then that loss sends us crashing back to earth with a 2-1 loss that could have been 3-1. Here’s how I break down that loss.

 

We started with a strong team but it was not our best lineup

I THOUGHT that for the last several months, in training camps, practices or friendlies, it was about developing chemistry and if some players did not attend, then they would not play. Wasn’t that why the Younghusband brothers were benched?

Take a look at the starting eleven of the Azkals against the War Elephants:

 

Ed Sacapaño

Ray Jonsson   Rob Gier   Juani Guirado   Dennis Cagara

James Younghusband    Jerry Lucena   Paul Mulders   Chieffy Caligdong

Phil Younghusband   Angel Guirado

 

The substitutes were Jason Sabio, Carli de Murga, Chris Greatwich, Jason de Jong, Marwin Angeles, Jeffrey Christiaens, Patrick Reichelt and Ref Cuaresma.

Ray and Rob were there in Cebu so that helps and I am fine with that. But the moment I saw the starting lineup, we should have gone with the team that was a little more familiar with one another. I felt that Christiaens, de Jong or Reichelt should have started, while Cagara and Lucena should have come off the bench until they take stock of the situation for them to help out. I thought that maybe jetlag might have set in as they looked terribly slow and out of sync on the pitch. Maybe another day they would have been magnificent, but I thought the first game was too much of a gamble for that.

Two days before kickoff, I asked Azkals coach Mike Weiss if he was going with the lineup that he has played for the last few games or put in his “dream team.” He said that was a tough decision and one that he and the coaches would weigh.

In my opinion, it turned out to be the wrong one. By not starting with the players the coaching staff has gone to for the last few games, we were gambling on talent rather than chemistry. We played horrible football after the first 10 minutes as we resorted to the long ball.

Yes, we threatened early on but so did they.

You might say that in hindsight the substitutions worked for the Philippines, but you have to think why not start Reichelt or even Christiaens? The moment they donned the national colors they have been superb additions.

 

The early injury to Phil Younghusband blunted our early momentum

AFTER an accidental head butt, Phil went out twice and spent collectively some 10 minutes in the sidelines getting treatment from the team physios. Playing with 10 men blunted our attack or what semblance of it we had. That was enough time for Thailand to organize their defense and play

Then Jerry Lucena got hit on the back of the head and he went out for like two minutes or so and that gave Thailand even more time to establish control of the match.

I believe that up to the point where Phil got hurt, we gave them fits. In a post-match conversation with Thailand assistant head coach Alexandre Polking, he said that the early threat forced them to change their tactics.

With Phil and Jerry out one after the other, Thailand was able to wrest control of the match. It didn’t help that our midfield was pretty much non-existent or even influential.

 

Winfried Schafer is a genius

THE other day, Winfried Schafer lamented the long ball style of play that Thailand previously resorted to. As a midfielder for Borussia Monchengladbach in the German Bundesliga, his first instinct as a player is to pass the ball in an efficient manner.

The style of play that Thailand showed is a far cry from the smash-and-grab tactics of 2010 under Bryan Robson. The War Elephants were more deliberate in their buildup. They played those small triangles on the attack and usually took one dribble before passing.

After the Philippines threatened in the early goings, Thailand’s adjustment was simple. From a 3-4-3 formation, they went to a 5-4-1 formation. The extra defender on our right side saw the supply of balls shut down from that area.

On the attack, boy, were they creative. Anucha Kitpongsri started out as the left-winger but he would sometimes lead the attack or drop back and let Theerathon Bunthaman take his spot in the secondary. That gave us different looks. Both players play the same position for their respective Premier League clubs and can play either the wing or as a defender. Their buildup from the back was especially impressive.

The system that Schafer has been promoting was on full display and if I wasn’t a Filipino, I’d be dancing and chanting along with their fans.

 

What was that all about, Coach Mike?

THE thing about the Suzuki Cup that you have to appreciate is the tactical nous of coaches. The influence on European coaches in the Southeast Asian game has been incredible. Even the regional coaches have learned much and have become heroes in their own right.

Malaysia has Krishnasemy Rajagopal. Singapore has Raddy Avramovich. And Thailand has Winfried Schafer.

The Philippines has seen much success under Michael Weiss but in two years’ time, I have yet to see that organized buildup from the back that he has talked about played on a more consistent basis.

I agree with Weiss that the referee, Otsuka Haruhiro, made plenty of questionable calls that favored the Thai divers but they did not by any chance change the complexion of the game. Four Thais were cautioned while there were only two to the Philippine side. But the costliest was the ejection of Weiss that means he will not be on the bench for the match.

I cannot understand this: during the post-match press con Weiss said that he merely wanted to roll the ball to the fallen Thai player who fell after a collision with Cagara. Well, that didn’t look like a roll to me as he took a basketball free throw at the Thai and sank it. And so Haruhiro sent him off. I don’t get it, he was even arguing with the fourth official who wanted to send him to the dugout. Instead, he watched from the stands. That, for sure, will make the match commissioner’s report. I just hope there are no further sanctions.

Prior to the ejection, a free kick was won by the Philippines. Weiss pointed to his temple indicating to use one’s brains. No idea what he meant by that but I can only surmise from what happened is that he commended his players for using their brains.

Unfortunately, he didn’t do the same when he threw the ball to the Thai player. It was a moment of pent-up frustration, he lost it. And now he won’t be there for the next game.

 

Yes, we will learn and, yes, there is still hope

VIETNAM, even with the return of 2008 hero Le Cong Vinh, looked impressive in the first half. But Myanmar’s halftime adjustments saw them threaten on the counter and they won a penalty that proved to be the equalizer.

On Tuesday Vietnam will come out like gangbusters because they know, like us, that the match will be literally win or go home.

The Azkals have to win against Vietnam and Myanmar. No draws but wins with goals aplenty scored.

I remain a firm believer that the team will learn from this defeat and next Tuesday will be every bit as important as that home match against Kuwait during the World Cup Qualifiers of last year.

 

Notes: Ian Araneta, not chosen in the final 22, flew home on Monday—his wife was expecting to give birth. Said Araneta: “May rason kung bakit ako hindi napili. Eto na ’yun. Blessing din.” On the injury report, Demetrius Omphroy is still recovering from fever while Denis Wolf is day to day following an ankle injury. Juani Guirado sustained a busted lip after an elbow from a Thai player while Phil Younghusband is ready to go following an accidental headbutt.

 

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