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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Azkals take third in a riveting AFC Challenge Cup match with Palestine.

The Azkals take third in a riveting AFC Challenge Cup match with Palestine.
by rick olivares

What a way to end the AFC Challenge Cup and what a way to start 2012!

It could have been disastrous as Palestine chugged forward in the endgame as they attempted to equalize and send the match into extra periods. Visions of that late collapse against Turkmenistan flashed before me. Every time the Philippines scored, Palestine responded with a strike of their own. While the 4-3 result was well deserved for the Philippines, Al Fursan showed their character and resiliency during by not giving up.

However, the Philippine Men’s Football National Team was equally resilient in handling the pressure applied by Palestine. They responded to the challenge by scoring goals after Al Fursan pulled back one and they held off a late challenge to slay the ghost of Turkmenistan games past.

Phil Younghusband scored a brace in the first half including a nifty move where he faked off three defenders before finishing off with his left foot. Prior to that, Azkals midfielder Angel Guirado took a poorly played free kick by Palestine that he advanced. Guirado spotted winger Chieffy Caligdong racing forward up the left flank. The Spaniard’s forward pass was a little strong and the Philippine captain had to not only put on a burst of speed to prevent the ball from going out of bounds but he also managed a difficult pass to Younghusband who darted towards the heart of Palestine’s defense unchallenged. Once inside the box, Younghusband, who would go on to win the AFC Challenge Cup’s Golden Boot Award for the top scorer of the tournament with five successful strikes, maneuvered his way in with a fake to the right before going back left and firing it past the diving Saleh.

Abdelhamid Abuhabib pulled one back to make it 1-1 but Younghusband scored on a penalty to restore the Philippines’ lead. Angel Guirado, who played well during the qualifiers all the way to the group stages, essayed a sublime strike despite the difficult angle provided him by Al Fursan goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh. Guirado’s goal offered a cushion from the expected blitz of Jamal Mahmoud’s players who utilized combination plays to near devastating effect.

Abuhabib scored a second goal and that made Guirado’s insurance goal all the more important. And Guirado’s younger brother Juani made a fine run into the middle of Palestine’s weak central defense (where Phil carved out his most exquisite finish) to blast home a screamer past Saleh. Guirado’s fifth international goal made it 4-2 Philippines. The Guirado brothers from the Philippines by way of Malaga, Spain are keepers!

Towards the end of the match, forward Fateh Attal blasted a rocket straight at Philippine goalkeeper Eduard SacapaƱo that found the back of the net. While the Philippines’ play has significantly improved over the years, the chink in the armor is the team’s focus after we score a goal. It wavers. Time and again after a goal, instead of seizing the moment it is the opposing team that regains its composure to go on the attack. In the endgame, the final 20 minutes, the midfield loses steam and the opponents apply so much pressure on the defense. This one needs to be addressed. Maybe the crucial substitutions should be done here. Maybe a change in formation.

This time, we held fast and in an incredibly high-scoring game, the score was 4-3 in favor of the Philippines!

Palestine redoubled their efforts but time had run out on Al Fursan. The Philippine team, hounded by controversy at home, found success in the tournament. The third place finish was one of the best results of the national squad since the glory days of the country in the 1970s.

As good as it was having Neil Etheridge at goal and having Juani Guirado, Ray Jonsson, and Paul Mulders in the back, I really have to give it to Angel Guirado with his superb play. He has been criticized for his lack of speed but he does other things so well such as tracking back on defense, setting up a teammate for a goal, and scoring.

I thought that Guirado played well since the start of last year’s UFL Cup despite battling nagging injuries. He struggled with form but beginning the international friendly with Malaysia, he has been an integral part of the club.

I also thought that the central midfield was not as fluid without Lexton Moy but I was quite happy with the return of Chieffy Caligdong. He isn’t 100% at the moment after being sidelined with an injury but the Chief will surely get there.

I also have to credit Dan Palami and Michael Weiss for this great finish. Dan, if you recall, called it right. He said that the team would make the semis. And the man isn’t just flailing at thin air. As for Coach Mike, yep, I have been hard on him but like I always say, if you’re willing to accept praise you must learn to accept criticism both good and bad. Anyways… great job, Coach.

The team began 2011 on a high note with wins over Mongolia and Sri Lanka. It was a trying year as team management and the coaching staff was trying in different players. We gave a good account of ourselves in some games and were thrashed in others but chalk that up to a rebuilding year. After all, no one was taking the Philippines lightly anymore. Post-Malaysia, the team battled even the Australian team and the team rediscovered its defensive and attacking form. The Suzuki Cup will close out the year and I like our chances heading into Southeast Asia’s top senior national team competition. A 3-0-2 record in the group stages is not so bad. Were it not for the late breakdown against Turkmenistan we could have booked that finals seat. But let’s enjoy this third place finish that is doubly sweet as Phil Younghusband won the Golden Boot Award. At least we’re going somewhere and that way is up!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rick,

    Just wanted to mention Juani Guirado is older than Angel.