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.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Azkals score some points off a draw with Chinese Taipei

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The Azkals score some points off a draw with Chinese Taipei
by rick olivares
photo by craig burrows and pinoyfootball

How many of you were disappointed by the scoreless draw between the Philippines and Chinese Taipei?

I was. But juuuuust… a little bit.

Actually, I came away from the match thinking that the positives far outweighed the negatives.

For one, I thought that the coaching staff came out with a great game plan. More often than not, Phil Younghusband is a marked man because of his prodigious scoring talent. It was fun to see him play the far right as well as the role of facilitator early in the first half. Right there, you could see what an exceptional talent he is blazing down the flanks and outracing a couple of defenders. And he was successful in sending several crosses inside that went right through Taipei’s defense.

I guess that one day practice between games for a change in strategy isn’t enough for others to automatically thunder down the middle for a header or a volley. One is accustomed to seeing Phil finish off a perfectly laid pass by James Younghusband or Super Chief.

But Phil playing wide definitely threw the home team around for a loop.

Unfortunately, Taipei’s threw us one as well. And television anchor Bob Guerrero described it in the most spot on manner: “There are more divers here in the Chinese Taipei team than in Anilao on a Saturday morning.”

The Chinese fell at the slightest bump or nudge. When that player tried to tackle James Younghusband late in the game, the Fil-Briton saw it coming and he jumped high to avoid it. As gravity did its job, James fell down on the player. The Chinese player crouched and looked at the ref in hopes that the Philippine midfielder would get carded. When none was forthcoming, he rolled over and writhed in pain.

Not only should he be given a yellow card for diving but a trophy as well for the Best Actor Award.

Frustrated by the tactic, the home team tried to pull a fast one with quick plays. Luckily for the Filipinos, they were alert. But how many fouls were called on the Azkals? I lost count at 10.

And considering it was the home team that was playing, I thought we were darn lucky that the linesman whistled midfielder Lo Chih-an for being offside because had his strike at the 75th minute stood, we were goners. They would have surely parked that bus to Anilao in front of their goal.

At the half, the team made their adjustments and the Azkals went on the attack.

And here is what I like overall:

1.    Neckson Leonora. The day after the draw with Hong Kong, I had lunch with Bob Guerrero at Gateway. He asked me what I thought and I said that I thought that Matthew Hartmann was playing out of position. He replied and said na manipis yung line up and I said then they should insert Leonora. I’ve seen the kid play for San Beda and his native Iloilo. Not only is he a rock at centerback (his more natural position) but he also takes their long range free kicks and is good in linking up for the attack. Once inside the box, he is dangerous in the air where he can nail flatfooted goalkeepers with a header or a bicycle kick.

Leonora’s insertion into the starting XI meant that Hartmann could move to his more natural midfield position. And more importantly, if he could sustain that type of game, then the coaching staff would have found a perfect substitute for Ray Jonsson when he is unavailable.

2.    The ground game. I am not talking about Chinese Taipei’s ground hugging tactics. I liked the short passing game of the Philippines where for the first time, I saw them stringing up at least four of five (and sometimes even more) passes before going on the attack. They were more patient this time as they did not hesitate to pass it back to the defenders who have a better view of the action.

The home side may have had the ball 60% of the time during the first half but come the last 45 minutes (including the mysterious three minutes of added time), the Azkals were able to dictate the pace of the game and seize control of the midfield. Once they are able to play that way more consistently, we will see better finishes.

3.    Quality substitutions. This time, the nationals’ head coach Michael Weiss went to his bench early. And what fines ones as well. The insertion of midfielder Jeffrey Christiaens (at the start of the second half) and Lexton Moy (in the 70th minute) were not only timely but were also the right choices. Both provided a massive dose of energy to the overall effort.

The Nationals assistant coach Edwin Cabalida likens Christiaens as a younger Caligdong and true enough, he worked well from the left flank or flying down the middle. He nearly assisted Phil on a volley as well. Maybe he should have taken that shot instead of passing off but had Phil scored, the 20-year Fil-Belgian would have been a genius. Ditto with Weiss.

4.    Roland Muller’s play at goal. How many shots did he stop? He saved us in the first half with great reads on the Chinese Taipei attack. And when he looked upfield following a save, he was able to make good decisions whether by passing the ball to the wings or sending the ball way up ahead for Phil to corral and hopefully beat the offside trap. Much better play in his second cap for the Philippines.

5.    Chieffy Caligdong’s presence. The Barotacnon was a marked man just like Phil. Twice he got tackled and each time he took a little time to get up. That says something about his importance. While Christiaens did his best to fill in what the Azkals co-captain gives on the field, Caligdong is inspirational and downright skilled.

During one sequence where he was able to get a shot off while straddling close to the touchline parallel to Chinese Taipei’s goal. Had he gotten a little more lift and curve to it and send it to the far post, he might have even scored another goal.

It would have been nice to get three points from this match but the scoreless drew gave the Philippines one point for a total of two in the same number of matches.

Hong Kong, by virtue of its 5-1 thrashing of Macau saw them accrue five points in two matches; the same as Chinese Taipei. But the #155 ranked Hong Kong are atop the leader board because of a superior goal difference (8-3).

For the Philippines to claim the 2011 Long Teng Cup, the Azkals must score at least five more goals that whatever Hong Kong tallies in their final match against the home team. Should Hong Kong win the match, whatever the goal tally of the Philippines will be moot and academic.

The growth of the team continues. And as I always say, any point you can come away with especially in an away game is always good. And I think I just mentioned five points – good ones I might say -- for the Philippines to ponder.

Good luck against Macau.


  1. like all sports development programs, patience is a real virtue we must cultivate. It take time and practice to make perfect, just as Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the "Outliers"

  2. The best local player today.