This appears in the Thursday July 28, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.
L-R: JP Demontaño, Assistant General Coordinator; Talal Al Mehteb, Media Officer, Kuwait; Goran Tefugdzic, coach, Kuwait, Cathy Rivilla, General Coordinator Home Match; Michael Weiss, coach, Philippines, Aly Borromeo, captain, Philippines; and me.
Ninety-minutes for tomorrow
by rick olivares
The game of football is broken down into two 45-minute halves. It seems like an awful lot of time for a game where scores are hard to come by.
When you are the team chasing an aggregate score, 90 minutes seem like not much time. While the task at hand—scoring three goals to match the three given up while preventing Kuwait from scoring—is extremely difficult, it is not impossible.
How bad are the odds? In the latest rankings of FIFA, Kuwait went up from No. 102 to No. 95 while the Philippines dropped from No. 152 to No. 155.
In retrospect, the Kuwaitis did what they had to do at the Mohammed Al-Hamad Stadium. And that is to spot their Philippine counterparts with a massive 3-nil lead despite the stadium being packed by Filipinos who turned the stadium into a slice of Pilipinas if only for 45 minutes.
When the Azkals take to the Rizal Memorial pitch on Thursday at 7 p.m., although smaller than the 25,000-seater that is the Al Hamad, they could count on the 13,000-plus expected attendance to bust their lungs and will their team to an incredible come-from-behind victory.
“It’s do or die,” succinctly put Azkals team captain Aly Borromeo. “There’s no tomorrow or another chance. We have to go all-out.” Borromeo won’t be the only Filipino back in the saddle. The feisty Fil-German midfielder Stephan Schrock who also served out his one-game suspension for cumulative yellow cards will be back. “It’s good to be back,” said Schrock, who arrived on Monday night from Germany. “We’ve got some business to take care of here, yeah?”
The return of the two buoys the team that played a more defensive formation that proved disastrous in Kuwait City.
And now they need to attack. Since current head coach Hans Michael Weiss joined the team in February, the Azkals have scored five goals in the first half and seven goals in the final 45 minutes of play.
Look for the team to try and score quickly. It is possible they will go to a 4-4-2 formation, but with everyone coming down on defense. The return of Schrock gives the team a more attacking dimension and a bevy of feeders for Phil Younghusband as target man. Look for the midfield to be more aggressive and active just as they were in the first half of the away match that saw them nearly net three goals off brilliant passes by Chieffy Caligdong, Manuel Ott and James Younghusband.
Del Rosario Gier Borromeo Jonsson
J Younghusband Schrock Caligdong
P Younghusband Guirado
Another factor that the Philippines could count on aside from the home crowd and a near-complete Azkals lineup (still without the injured Jerry Lucena and Paul Mulders) is the weather.
After the match in Kuwait City, almost immediately the Kuwaitis inquired about the weather in Manila. They aren’t used to playing in the rain although head coach Goran Tefugdzic would like to differ. “It rains for two to three months in Kuwait so it is no big deal. We will adjust.”
But with Typhoon Juaning threatening to upset match day, Match Commissioner May Tola announced during the Manager’s Meeting at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium that any postponement is a game-time decision.
“The match commissioner and the referee assessor will take a look if the conditions are playable,” said the Cambodian official. “In the event of a postponement, the match will be played at the same time of the following day.”
Rain aside, what Team Philippines needs to do is to score right away. That will put more pressure on them to find the back of the net in the second half and the pressure can lead to more mistakes—something the Azkals can ill afford.
“We have to hold them scoreless,” pointed out Weiss. “For them to score a goal early in the match will be disastrous. We have to be very focused for the task at hand. We play defense and attack as a team. We hope to plug the holes in our defense especially in the midfield.”
During the match away, the Azkals’ defense was somewhat able to contain playmaker Fahed Al Elenezi. But even as Al Azraq’s No. 7 went off the pitch, “supersub” Abdulaziz Mashan came on in the second half and sparked their squad to two goals that put the match away and placed Kuwait in a prime position to advance to the third round of the Asian Qualifiers of the 2014 World Cup.
“We were not able to scout him,” said midfielder Jason de Jong of Abdulaziz. “He made a big difference for them.”
“Our goal is not yet finished,” pronounced Tefugdzic. “We are aware of what the Philippine team can do here in Manila.”
“It is possible that they [Kuwait] can park the bus,” noted Borromeo. “But whatever they do we have to pressure them into playing our style of play. A goal early in the game should boost our confidence.”
How big is the game?
“Big,” underscored Phil Younghusband. “Our biggest game so far.”
Should the Philippines be unable to pull through, it will be a long wait until 2015 for the next World Cup Qualifiers.