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.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Coming up close: the Philippines’ 1-1 draw with Malaysia

This appears in the Monday, March 5, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Coming up close: the Philippines’ 1-1 draw with Malaysia
Malaysia’s late late equalizer partially exorcises the ghosts of a SEA Games past.
by rick olivares pics by brosi gonzales and jp manahan

The defending Suzuki Cup champions dug themselves out of what was close to becoming a graveyard for Malaysian football teams past and present. And International Friendly or not, the Malaysians’ Manila nightmare was almost complete.

Last Friday night, the Tigers’ chartered bus got stuck in the horrendous traffic jam that clogged the metropolis’ thoroughfares. The Harimau Tigers sat inside the bus for hours before finally deciding to hoof it back to their hotel along Roxas Boulevard. They braved Manila’s streets as they were swarmed with the crowd leaving the religious gathering along Roxas Boulevard that caused all the traffic in the first place. Not only were they in the midst of the tired and hungry masses eager to get home as well but also possibly the scum of snatchers and pickpockets looking for some unlikely victim. They did make it back safely, but it was a harrowing experience. And now on the pitch, experimental team or not, the Malaysians were being outplayed by their upstart neighbors.

That is until late substitute Ahmad Shakir Mohd Ali finished off a pass by Mohd Afee Sali to snatch a 1-1- draw from the jaws of defeat at the hands of the Philippines last night at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. And in the 90th minute! Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, the song that was played immediately after the ’91 win over the Tigers, never blared from the speakers.

Fil-German striker Dennis Wolf played the part of undertaker when put the Philippines ahead in the 34th minute with a header off a brilliant throw in by Jason Sabio inside the Malaysian box. Tigers defender Asraruddin Omar tried to head away Sabio’s throw in but he missed the ball that Wolf deftly flicked past goal keeper Mohd Farizal Marlias.

Even as the visitors turned the game around by finally asserting control of the midfield in the 53rd minute, the home side was very close to handing the Tigers a loss in the very same stadium where the Philippines beat them, 1-0, during the 1991 Sea Games.

How did Wolf’s goal come about?
The defensive line of Ray Jonsson, Juani Guirado, Jason Sabio, and Carli de Murga held fast. And when the ball did get past them, Neil Etheridge reminded everyone why he is the number one keeper for the national squad by snatching Malaysian crosses in a single bound.

The defense didn’t simply kick the ball out of harm’s way. They managed to get the ball to Angel Guirado, Lexton Moy, and James Younghusband who in turn fed Phil Younghusband and Wolf a heaping helping of scoring chances. And Guirado had a number of great attempts (including a sensation shot that hit the cross bar and a bicycle kick that went straight to Tigers' keeper Mohd Farizal Marlias).

The team had the Malaysians backpedalling as they oft won the first ball, outfought the midfielders for possession and sent a bunch of shots towards Marlias who was one of those players who were a part of the successful 2009 SEA Games champions that began Malaysia’s current dominance in the region.

The Azkals got a number of free kicks from just around the box and incredibly were winning the aerial battle for headers. The height of Guirado, the Younghusbands, and Wolf surely helped in that respect.

And if those free kicks weren’t enough of a danger, Jason Sabio’s throw-in can be categorized almost as one because of the distance he throws it and its accuracy. He did that before when he set up Kaya teammate Nate Burkey for a goal during a UFL Cup match last year against Diliman.

This time, the ball found its way to Wolf after Tigers defender was unable to head the ball away. But Wolf’s header was on target.

What turned the game around for Malaysia?
That began in the 53rd minute when Malaysia kept the ball inside their attacking half for a good number of minutes before the Philippines was finally able to go on the counter attack.

Unlike in the first half where the build-ups were better, this time the Azkals got their chances through swift counter attacks.

The Malaysians assumed control of the midfield and began to make their runs from the middle where they could distribute the ball to either flank. Head coach K Rajagopal also made crucial substitutions such as the introduction of regular starting keeper Norazalan Razali in the 76th minute and Amhmad Shakir Ali that proved brilliant.

And they showed why they have been the winners of every major competition around southeast Asia aside from the game being played all the way to the final whistle. Plus, they adjusted to a really bad pitch.

Forward Safee Sali found Ali who was able to weave his way past Juani Guirado and lastly Jason Sabio before beating Neil Etheridge who was magnificent at goal.

Were the substitutions by the Philippines our folly?
Not at all. I was surprised that Angel Guirado went out earlier than expected but Misagh Bahadoran is not a bad sub. It was a move to win back that midfield.

Carli de Murga had been battling a bum stomach for a few days and wasn’t at his best just yet.

The Philippines played very well. Malaysia, whether they tried new players or not, played to win.

Late game equalizers happen. It’s also the nature of the game. Chris Greatwich’s late header for the 1-1 equalizer against Singapore in the 2010 Suzuki Cup is one such example.

So where to after this match?
In the pre-match press conference, both Coach K and Coach Mike spoke of how this game will show how far we’ve come with all the preparations and heading into the AFC Cup and Challenge Cup (respectively) that are right before the Suzuki Cup. It is a gauge, a barometer if you will. And I say both teams came up aces.

We looked good, something that I have not felt since the World Cup Qualifiers of last year. And this is a good game to build on. The pre-match confidence was great. We played great and were unlucky to concede a late goal for an equalizer but to do this against the champions of the region – hey, I like it.

Now imagine this – Wolf and Phil Younghusband up front. James Younghusband, Angel Guirado, Chieffy Caligdong, and Stephan Shrock in the middle. And Ray Jonsson, Carli de Murga, Aly Borromeo, and Jason Sabio in the back. And Neil Etheridge at goal.

And you have to find a place for Paul Mulders, Roland Muller, Manny Ott, Lexton Moy, Juani Guirado, Rob Gier, Joshua Beloya, Ian Araneta, and a few others. Now that is a good problem.

Keep that team intact for a while and the team will get better (of course, that is easier said than done). And maybe then, pitches across Southeast Asia (at first) as well as the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium will become graveyards for opposing teams.

The Kaholeros were finally in form last night. Good job, guys. And K Rajagopal was not only brilliant but eloquent as well. I had several opportunities to talk with Coach K in these last two days and one of those that we spoke about was the Liverpool-Malaysia match of late last year. When Coach K stepped on to the pitch of the Bukit Jalil Stadium (while the Liverpool players were walking about some two hours before the match, the place exploded in cheers for the home side's coach). It made my hair stand up to see the home crowd give their head coach a salute like that. Coach K waved his hands and the Liverpool players were pleasantly happy to see such a scene). Coach K and I spoke about that and he was happy that I was there to see that. Before the match, we spoke for some 10 minutes on the Tigers' bench about regional football and it was a pleasure to be able to do that.


Want to thank the following for the past few days: Dan Palami, Michael Weiss, Rob Gier, Ray Jonsson, Chieffy Caligdong, Angel Guirado, Lexton Moy, Neil Etheridge, the Local Organizing Committee, and the fine folks at the Discovery Suites.


  1. Jason de Jong not part of your equation?

  2. "And maybe then, pitches across Southeast Asia (at first) as well as the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium will become graveyards for opposing teams."

    I don't know, but looks like the pitch at RMS looks dead to me...graveyard.. even the malaysian coach partly blamed the condition of the pitch for the match result.

  3. Rizal Terrible!

  4. what about Gener?