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Time to get the job done

SINGAPORE—Michael Weiss likes what he sees.

The match between the Philippines and Singapore in the first leg of their 2012 Suzuki Cup semifinals clash may have ended in a scoreless draw but the Philippine head coach has reasons to be happy.

The result still gives the Philippines hope after they repeatedly repelled Singapore’s attacks. One goal in the away match starting at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the Jalan Besar Stadium will count as double as per tournament rules and the home team will have to find the back of the net twice just to equalize.

However, that is getting ahead of themselves. Following an early-morning Monday flight to the island state left the players a little tired.

“It was this morning where I saw the freshness come back,” said Weiss. “It was most important to recover from the first leg because it was an intense game. We had a day off on Sunday but we had a strong session last Monday.”

Weiss underscored the urgency of the match. “If we want to make the finals, then we have to come out and play like we did in the second half,” he said.

Singapore head coach Radojko Avramovic also hopes that his squad also comes out with the same spirit. “The job isn’t done yet. We have another 90 minutes. I hope we show the same strength,” he said.

The semifinals series is Avramovic’s fourth and he is looking to win his third Suzuki Cup title.

“It’s different every time. There are new challenges,” said Avramovic.

This is the Azkals’ second consecutive semifinals finish and the first under Weiss, who has presided on the best performances and placings of the national side in its entire history.

But the second-year head coach also preached caution: “We are still work in progress.”

 

Azkals’ back four is ready

IN four matches in the 2012 Suzuki Cup, the Azkals’ defensive line has conceded only two goals. They have the best goal differential among the eight teams that competed in the group stages leading all the way to the semifinals. Tournament favorite Thailand, in contrast, has conceded three goals.

In three matches against Singapore this year (including two friendlies that the Philippines won), the Lions failed to score.

Ed Sacapaño, starting in place of the unavailable Neil Etheridge, has been stellar since the Peace Cup. If beating Sacapaño has been difficult, so has breaching the back four been a difficult task.

Commanding the Philippines in the back as well as on the field is Rob Gier, who has also worn the captain’s armband in place of Chieffy Caligdong and James Younghusband.

Alongside Gier are Carli de Murga, who started in place of the injured Ray Jonsson at left back against Myanmar and the home match against Singapore; Juani Guirado, who played superb defense also in the past two games; and Dennis Cagara, who stopped many of the Lions’ attacks from the right flank.

Although Jonsson is ready to go, according to Team Manager Dan Palami, de Murga still might get the nod as the starting right back because of his success against Singapore’s Aleksandar Duric.

“We know we have a slight achievement in the fact that a scoring draw will get us through. But when teams play to a draw it all ends up badly. The first thing we’re going to do is to keep a good shape and clean sheet,” said Gier, who is in his second Suzuki Cup.

De Murga agreed. “We know we have a big opportunity to advance. But it starts in the back so we can give our forwards a chance to score. Their players like Shaiful Esah and Shahril Ishak are dangerous and have good chemistry. We have played them three times this year and have not given up a goal. But they have had many chances. It is up to us to play them better because they will have learned from our last match.”

Guirado, the older brother of midfielder/forward Angel Guirado, has been solid in the last two matches after a spotty start to the tournament.

“Maybe I can say that it was because of nervousness and unfamiliarity with the tournament and the competition. But after our loss to Thailand, I challenged myself to play better. It feels good to contribute,” said Guirado.

 

Younghusbands out for redemption

JAMES and Phil Younghusband are hoping to break out their weaponry and contribute to the semifinals campaign against Singapore.

Although Phil Younghusband has scored one goal (in the Azkals’ final group stage match against Myanmar in a 2-0 win), the brothers have mostly been unable to weave their customary influence on the match.

“I think both individually and as a team, we are capable of a lot better,” explained Phil. “Personally, I found it difficult to get on the ball and influence the game. But I give a lot of credit to Singapore. I thought they played well.”

Added James: “As a team we defended very well and got off to a nervy start. Better in the second half. Individually, I thought I did okay. I made some good passes and tracked back on defense. But I could do much better.”

Summed up Phil: “Of course, we would have loved to have the won the home game, especially being in front of our own fans, but the most important thing about a first leg is to give yourself the best possible chance in the second leg. A positive is we were able to keep a clean sheet and concede no away goals.”

 

This is for Manny Pacquiao

WITH minutes after Manny Pacquiao was knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez, Azkals Team Manager Dan Palami’s began to receive calls and text messages about the Azkals upholding Pinoy pride.

“It will be a huge lift for Philippine sports if we make the finals,” said Palami, in reference to the Azkals being the great hope for Philippine sports on the international level at the moment.

Added midfielder and co-captain Chieffy Caligdong: “Ramdam namin ’yung pagkatalo ni Pacman. Masakit ’yun. Sana maipanalo namin ’tong laban sa Singapore bukas. Para sa bayan ’to at kay Manny Pacquiao.”

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