Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

2011 Long Teng Cup: Azkals vs Hong Kong Draw snatched from the jaws of victory (and vice versa)

Draw snatched from the jaws of victory (and vice versa)
by rick olivares

After the Philippine Men’s Football National Team was booted from the Asian Qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, I was reading the comments on an online forum where an anonymous poster ragged a fan who said that after a few more years of seasoning, the Azkals could qualify for the sport’s biggest spectacle.

“Win first in your area,” the pundit chided.

The Long Teng Cup may not be high on most footballing nations’ participation list but it’s a tournament we’ve joined and it’s a tournament we can try to win.

I am not wholly disappointed in the 3-3 fulltime result in the Philippines’ opener with defending champion Hong Kong.

Here’s why…

1.    This team is not the team that played in last year’s Long Teng Cup, Suzuki Cup, or even this year’s World Cup Qualifiers. The roster for the 2011 Long Teng Cup is a mixture of old and new and that means this team is getting its feet wet in international competition.

Consider the starting eleven: Roland Muller (GK); Oliver Poetschke, Roel Gener, Aly Borromeo, and Matthew Hartmann (back four); James Younghusband, Carli Martinez de Murga, Jason de Jong, and Chieffy Caligdong (midfield), and Angel Guirado and Phil Younghusband (forward). There are three new players on the team in Muller, Poetschke, and Martinez de Murga. Any time you have that many new players in the mix you can be sure that their play could be far from smooth.

It is clear from the Azkals’ recent matches that the international experience has really helped. We are no longer easy or willing victims. The nationals go out and compete and have posted some incredible wins along the way. The newbies will benefit from their first international caps.

2.    The team came back from a 2-nil deficit to equalize and later put themselves in a prime position to beat Hong Kong; a country ranked 10 notches higher by FIFA than us (#155 to #165).

A match like this bodes well for their confidence since they know they can come back from a deficit.

Now the team has to figure out a way of staying away from falling into these holes. Overhauling a deficit can be taxing and is kind of difficult to achieve.

3.    Caligdong is Super Chief!

There were some quarters in the team who thought that Chieffy Caligdong was done after last year’s Suzuki Cup. But the fact of the matter was the Air Force winger was battling injuries.

Spurred by a footballing renaissance in the country and the challenges of newcomers trying to displace him, Caligdong has elevated his game and has scored many important and memorable goals. Even his foes in the UFL have noted how his game has grown and how he has become a better player.

He’s dangerous in and around the box and those two exquisite finishes against Hong Kong are world-class. Standing a mere 5’5”, the Chief is testament to the country’s stout fighting heart.

Now I’d be damning the team with superfluous praise if I said that there were things I do not like.

Here’s why…

1.    Up to now we still do not own that ball.

The 4-4-1-1 formation was correct as it sought to mask the rawness of some players with its flexibility to switch from offense to defense. That formation as well as better team discipline saw far fewer instances of long ball play as the team opted for the more precise short passing game.

However, that did not materialize in the first half as Hong Kong dominated possession. Come the second half, the spacing was better and the attacks improved. When we lost possession, we fought back to regain them.

As it was, all three Philippine goals were on solo sorties.

2.    We still do not defend set pieces very well.

In the 87th minute, a set piece from just outside the box managed to stay clear of the five-man wall to go straight to the Philippine goal. Goal keeper Roland Muller parried away the shot. Unlike an earlier Hong Kong volley that he successfully blocked and corralled the loose ball before a red shirt poacher could get to it, this time he could not.

Hong Kong’s best player, attacking midfielder Au Yeung Yiu Chung got to the loose ball and scored the equalizer to rob the Philippines of the available three points.

To begin with, there was something wrong with the defensive alignment for the set piece.

In a previous HK free kick, they lined up a red shirt on the extreme right side of the wall. The intention of such placing is to that man in a position to make a quick turn once the shot is taken in order to go after a possible rebound or even a chip.

HK coach Liu Chun Fai gave us a variation of that play the team was unable to read. There were some red shirts lurking outside the box but they placed two men inside the penalty area. Although marked by two Azkals defenders, the HK players made sure there was a gap where their teammate taking the free kick can send the ball inside.

It was a well-taken shot and a well-executed play.

Muller blocked it but there were two Hong Kong players in a fantastic position to claim the rebound for a potential score.

Perhaps the more painful truth is that for the second consecutive game (the previous one being against Kuwait), we conceded a goal to a team that was playing with only 10 men.

It was Mongolia in the AFC Challenge Cup all over again (the Blue Wolves home game where they scored on a rebound off a free kick).

During that match, Blue Wolves midfielder Garidmagnai Bayasgalan followed up his botched spot kick (that Azkals’ keeper Eduard Sacapaño saved but was unable to control) by racing inside before the Philippine defenders could for a goal.

3.    We once more gave up unnecessary yellow cards.

Jason de Jong what were you thinking of? Two yellow cards and sent off for dissent. That temper of yours will cause you to miss not only the next game maybe even the next one.

We didn’t get a win but neither did Hong Kong (who dealt us a 4-2 loss last year). We got a point that is just as important. Am I worried that we are a man down for the match against the home team (Chinese Taipei)? Nope. We have players who will pick up the slack. But if we want to bring home the Cup, then it is imperative that we get a win and score a bunch of goals.

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