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Caligdong comes to the rescue of Azkals against Vietnam

BANGKOK—Since the countries that comprised Group A of the 2012 Suzuki Cup encamped in Bangkok last week, Vietnamese head coach Phan Than Hung has mostly shunned the media (save for an ambush interview I was able to conduct).  In his place, team manager and Vietnamese Football Association General Secretary Ngo Lec Bang has done all the talking.

Two games played. One point accrued. And another stinging loss to the Philippines following an 86th-minute goal by Chieffy Caligdong (off a delicious chip of an assist by Angel Guirado). It was time for Hung to face the music.

When Hung faced the media horde at the press center of the Rajamangala Stadium, it looked like he had not slept one wink and would not be getting any afterward.

“The worst match since I took over. I am unbelieving,” he said.

In the Red Warriors’ buildup to Bangkok, they lost to Turkmenistan, 1-0; beat Laos, 4-0; upset Malaysia, 1-0; and drew with Myanmar, 1-1, in their first game of the Suzuki Cup.

There is enormous pressure on Vietnam for sure. After the fall of the Red Warriors in 2010, Henrique Callisto was fired, a shocking end for someone who led them to the Suzuki Cup title two years earlier. The previous coach had a 3-2 record and was let go. Who knows what fate awaits Hung when the tournament is over and they fail to advance?

In the return bout at the Rajamangala Stadium, it wasn’t quite like 2010 where the Philippines was mostly on the defensive as the Azkals preferred to strike on the counter. This batch of Azkals engaged Vietnam from the get go and the resulting 1-0 win, was well, well deserved.

Let’s break it down.

Defense was solid

THIS was probably the best-coached game for some time by the staff—fantastic adjustment before and mid-game.

The defense was compact. Sure, some balls slipped through but there will always be balls that slip through. Watching the defense switch to a 4-5-1, the Vietnamese did not have much room to maneuver or to even shoot. Vietnam striker Le Cong Vinh had at least one person on him all the time. If he turned, there was another Philippine defender on him. The Red Warriors could not really get a shot inside the box and had to tee off from outside.

In the first game against Thailand, the War Elephants would blow by our wing defenders for crosses although Dennis Cagara (on the left) and Ray Jonsson (on the right) were quick to recover. In this game, they were a step faster. Jason de Jong and Jerry Lucena were silent operators, making good stops and crucial in clogging the middle.

Rob Gier is the top man on defense. He is to this team what Aly Borromeo was to the Azkals in 2010. If the ball got past Jerry Lucena or Jason de Jong (and Juani Guirado on one or two occasions), Rob cleaned up the mess.

If the ball did get past him, there was Ed Sacapaño.

Why Sacapaño is a national player

IT is amazing what confidence can do to a person. Some quarters would opine that Sacapaño was the token Pinoy in the goalkeeping corps behind Euro-based studs Neil Etheridge and Roland Muller, but following his stellar performance in the Peace Cup and the Singapore friendly where he did not let a ball past him, his confidence is up and at an all-time high.

In the first game against Thailand, there was one instance where he rushed out haphazardly and a War Elephant headed the ball toward an empty net. Luckily for the Philippines, the shot was wide. Sacapaño realized that he should have not done so and he had dodged a bullet. He tapped his chest to acknowledge his mistake. Defender Juani Guirado gave him a low five in encouragement. He has been stellar since.

How many saves did he have against Vietnam? Six or seven? Great saves including that powerful volley by Le Tan Tai in the 86th minute where Sacapaño instinctively threw up a hand that redirected the ball to the crossbar and out.

Sacapaño did the Philippines proud and from now on, the Vietnamese will not only see Etheridge, Chris Greatwich and Phil Younghusband in their nightmares but also Chieffy Caligdong, Angel Guirado and, of course, Sacapaño.

Substitutions worked

GOOD decisions on the starting eleven. Even better decisions, timely ones I might add, in the substitutions.

The coaching staff made good reads. The defense was solid. And the offense needed tweaking with James and Phil Younghusband and Paul Mulders unable to convert.

Before the kickoff of this tournament, Caligdong mentioned that he would love to make a contribution to this campaign. In the last Suzuki Cup, he got injured in the qualifiers and got hurt in the group stage opener against Singapore. In his place, Roel Gener started and played well.

Caligdong resurfaced with that spectacular goal against Mongolia in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup Qualifiers.

In the opening match against Thailand, he looked out of sorts as he misread balls and got beaten by opposing midfielders.

Against Vietnam, he conspired with another sub in Angel Guirado for a couple of chances before the chip in the 86th minute that led to Caligdong beating one defender and firing the winning goal for the win.

Caligdong noted that he was getting in on the years with this being his fifth appearance in the biennial football tournament. He, of course, doesn’t know how long he can do this (he is 30 years old) but think about this: in his first game in the Tiger Cup in 2004 (as the tournament was called then), he came off the bench to score two late goals for a 2-1 win over Timor Leste. He added one later in a losing effort against Thailand in the same competition. And now The Chief struck again for the win.

The goal was also made possible by Angel Guirado, who started slow but showed great effort in tracking back and in trying to jump-start a sputtering offense. Angel made two great runs.

In the first, he took a pass on the right wing, kept the ball in play while beating a defender and blasted in a shot where a defender literally threw his body in the ball’s path just to block the shot. The second another run that led to Caligdong’s goal.

Guirado has been a terrific addition to the national team after 2010 and has even played great club football with Global in the last season. He was one of the stars in the successful Challenge Cup campaign and is showing in this Suzuki Cup why he is being counted on to tow the Philippines into the next round.

Southeast Asian football topsy-turvy but Philippines consistent

IN 2010 if there were any teams that disappointed, it was Thailand and Singapore as they failed to advance to the semifinals.

In this tournament, defending champion Malaysia was shocked by a resurgent Singapore, 3-0, while Vietnam is fast fading. Incidentally, the two are the past two Suzuki Cup champions.

For all the regional upheavals in football, the Philippines has been consistent and continues to rise. Of course, one win doesn’t mean we are through to the next round, but if you look at the overall picture, the nationals clearly threatened Thailand and showed that the previous win over Vietnam was no fluke.

In over two years’ time, the team has made great strides. The nationals have made the Suzuki Cup semifinals once (and hopefully twice if we can get a win against Myanmar in the final group assignment), crashed the second round of the World Cup Qualifiers, finished third in the Challenge Cup and won the Peace Cup (previously the Long Teng Cup).

The strides sure don’t look to stop any time soon.

We hold our fate in our hands

FOLLOWING the results of Tuesday’s matches, Thailand has booked itself a semifinals seat with a 4-0 thrashing of Myanmar, while the Philippines has climbed to second place. Vietnam and Myanmar are in third and fourth place, respectively, because of the goal difference (the former is at a minus-one goal difference while the latter has a minus-four).

This Friday the Myanmar-Philippines and Thailand-Vietnam clashes will kick off simultaneously at 8:20 p.m. Bangkok time. The Philippines’s match will be played at Muang Thong Stadium, home of Thai Premier League champions Muangthong United, while the Thailand-Vietnam tiff will be at the Rajamangala Stadium.

For the Philippines to advance to the semifinals, they must go for a win to avoid any complications. A win offsets any upset intentions by the Vietnamese against the host Thais.

Should Vietnam win and the Philippines draw with Myanmar, it will go down to goal difference.

The surest bet to advance will have to be taking home the three points.

Cards will play a factor in this match. If a player is docked a second yellow in the final group match, the suspension will carryover to the semifinals. Other than that, the slate will be wiped clean. It is possible that because of this, coaches might consider changes in their rotation.

Thailand’s Winfried Schafer might opt to sit striker Teerasil Dangda who has four goals to his name in two matches. Does Teerasil sit for their match against Vietnam?

For the Philippines, Paul Mulders, Eduard Sacapaño, Rob Gier, Jerry Lucena and Phil Younghusband all have one yellow card apiece.

Myanmar’s David Htan and Kyi Lin and reserve players Kaung Sithu and Thet Naing all have one yellow card each.

The final matches of Group A will definitely bear watching.

Lucena to miss crucial Myanmar match

Jerry Lucena flew back to Denmark on Wednesday morning as he was recalled by Danish club Esbjerg for a match this Saturday.

Azkals Team Manager Dan Palami attempted to secure Lucena’s services for the crucial and final Group A match against Myanmar in the 2012 Suzuki Cup this Friday, but was unable to do so.

Lucena, who plays either as a defender or a defensive midfielder for Esbjerg, described his Suzuki Cup experience as “wonderful.”

“I didn’t do so well in the first game [a 2-1 loss to host Thailand]. Maybe because it is the opening match and I wanted to do better in the next game against Vietnam,” explained Lucena. “It was a good win [the Azkals repeated over Vietnam, 1-nil to move up to second place in the group standings] and I am happy to be a part of the game and a the big victory. I want to play against Myanmar but I have to go back.”

It’s a 14-hour flight from Bangkok to Denmark where Lucena’s club, eighth-placer Esbjerg (4-7-7), will be playing an away match at TRE-FOR Park, home pitch for fourth-running Odense BK (8-4-6) in the Danish Superliga. “But I trust the guys. I will see everyone in the semis.”

In Photo: Homegrown King Azkal Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong comes to the rescue and scores a match-clincher, his 16th in international play. (Suzuki Cup 2012)





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