This appears in the Friday, July 1, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.
Dissecting the Azkals’ away match vs. Sri Lanka
by rick olivares
The Philippine Men’s Football National Team is talented no doubt, but chemistry is always integral to a team’s success. Since the arrival of the Fil-foreigners in 2004, the problem is many of them arrive days before the match. That means missing valuable time at training camp and to know the tendencies of teammates. Given now that there are many first-timers on the team that becomes a bigger problem.
Speaking of first-timers, yesterday was the first cap where Angel Guirado and Phil Younghusband played up front together. They connected well on one occasion where one touch passing led to a very good chance by Phil to score except it went straight to Manjula Fernando. Now consider that. Recognition. If they play longer and if Guirado -- I could be wrong here – is a little more match fit, that’s a great combo up front.
What does this mean for Ian Araneta? I figure Ian will start once in a while if not come off the bench. He’s too talented to be left off. He does know how to get into scoring position. It’s the finishing that bugs him and he knows that all too well. And that is why he is on the bench.
Good account for Nate Burkey in his Azkals debut. The former Virginia Commonwealth University Ram, played out of position (he’s a midfielder) – in a questionable move because it seemed logical to see Araneta come in for the hobbled Phil. But it worked didn’t it? Just the same when Michael Weiss lifted Anton del Rosario for Jason Sabio in the Mongolia-Panaad match late in the second half in a move that paid dividends when the latter assisted Phil for a goal. And in the away game in Mongolia and the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers in Myanmar, Yanti Bersales, criticized as too old for the team, came off the bench to provide some aggression in the forward position. He nearly scored too on a couple of occasions. While some moves may have not worked, I figure that Weiss is still fine-tuning the Azkals’ gears. He still has done a good job.
Once more speaking of playing out of position, Fil-Dutchman Paul Mulders, a natural attacking mid, played at left back in his Azkals’ debut. Without Ray Jonsson and Roel Gener, he had to play the spot. Now that reminds me of Liverpool’s Glen Johnson playing in the left back slot without Fabio Aurelio and he struggled. Maybe that contributed to the shakiness of the defense. But there’s room for growth. The coaches were raving about his talent and maybe a return to his more natural position is best.
But Stephan Schrock occupied that position yesterday.
The midfield at times looked chaotic but for the first time since Chris Greatwich played the middle during last year’s Suzuki Cup, we had someone who could bring that ball up field in Schrock. He had a couple of nice runs where he slalomed through defenders. Connecting with the attacking third is now something he has to work on.
Think about playing out of position and how big a deal it is.
Looking back at recent history, Jonsson was moved up to the midfield where has not played in a while. In practice sessions it worked but against Mongolia it did not. The link up between the midfield is important because it sets up a proper attack and the long ball play they showed in the first half got them nowhere. Once they settled down, Schrock, Caligdong, James Younghusband, and Manny Ott were able to step up the pressure. However, it Ott was playing holding midfield yesterday, I am not sure that worked too well.
What can you say about James Younghusband? Behind that floppy Harry Potter mane is a tough competitor. He was fighting for the ball and with the Sri Lankans. Although he dispossessed a Brave Reds defender of the ball in scoring position (the opportunity never materialized though), I miss those crosses of his. And I like his ferocity. I think he was just as responsible for that goal by Nate Burkey (as was Chieffy Caligdong).
Much has been made about Neil Etheridge’s goaltending in recent games (including the friendlies). You get the feeling that there’s a lot on his mind. I have not been able to see this team really up close since Panaad so I cannot comment about his confidence. Some like to point to Etheridge’s youth as a cause for recklessness. Maybe so. But I think that is really his style of play – rushing out and straying from his line. However, that save in the 90th minute from a heater by Nimal was brilliant. The defense had their backs turned on that play and the Fulham reserve keeper came away with a game saver.
Yesterday, while making an appearance on ANC for game analysis, host Boyet Sison asked me about the team brimming with confidence – was it good or was it misplaced.
I answered that it was good because unlike before, they headed into a match knowing they had no chance. Now they have talented players on the squad. The quality of players is so much better. It is more of a chemistry concern than anything. The team knows they have good players and that better training, better support, and a massive following pushes them. I’d rather have that any day than the old days when we used to be on the business end of maulings. If I were the coach back then I would have filed a police complaint for assault. But now? We’re not an easy foil for anyone.
Whenever you play an away game, the best result that you can hope for is obviously a win. But if you can walk away with a draw and you’re going back home, that’s a good feeling.
Now whether it’s Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila or Panaad Stadium in Bacolod, we better have one home field so they get used to the field, the conditions, and the atmosphere. Home field advantage isn’t just the field but also home. Home is where you go home and can settle into your regular routine. It might sound ridiculous but for athletes, focus is also a product of comfort.
And the game demands 90 minutes of focus. You saw that we almost got nailed in the game’s dying minutes. Too many teams know that. Even the great ones. Bayern Munich rues that Champions League loss to Manchester United. Ditto with Germany during the 2006 World Cup when Italy piped them. We’ve also dealt that kind of heartbreak too. Most recently against Singapore.
Onto the friendly confines of that good ole home cooking.
I'm not going to harp about the pitch. They all played on the same surface.