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, November 29, 2012

Thursday in Bangkok

Bangkok. Thursday. Finished my work once more pretty early. Skipped the pre-match presscon since I was able to talk or get some earlier quotes. They don't really tell you anything substantial anyways. Emailed my work then went out to the city. Wasn't able to do much at MBK (Mahboonkrong) the previous day so I went back. Gotta love an eight-story complex of over 2,000 shops selling different kinds of goods. Always love going here.

There was a time when the knockoffs at this mall were top class but this time around, they look and feel nothing like the real thing. The football shirts made use of poor material. Like poor grade dry fit. If one is a football fan who regularly buys kits, you'd know that sports apparel companies have shifted to lighter and more smooth material that doesn't smell. The printing of the names of the players, clubs, and sponsors is poor. I can tell it's a knockoff a mile away. One shop owner told me that there was higher grade material and that cost about 450 baht. Yup, just checking though.

What caught my eye were the Star Wars-themed shirts. There were about at least half a dozen designs that I saw. The pic above is just one of them. Here in Bangkok, save for the department store like anywhere else, you have to haggle for a lower price and not just pay for them. Remember, even if you ask for a lower price and they agree to it, they know they still make a tidy profit. So push for lower prices and try to get away with it. If not, they usually aren't the only shop selling that kind of shirt. 

Oops. I did it again! With a wax statue of Britney Spears at the Siam Discovery center in Bangkok. Below me checking out Sarah Oleksyk's Ivy at Kinokuniya at Siam Paragon (the best Kinokuniya is in Singapore's Nge An City). Ivy is an indie comic book that she both wrote and drew that is your coming of age story. Kinda like Juno, the film. I swear I could spend a whole afternoon here (and in Asia Books) and not get bored. Wish I had more money though. Hopefully, one day, I'll own a bookstore, a cool one that people would go to.

Philippines-Myanmar: Time to send these Angels crashing out

This appears in the Friday, November 30, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Time to send these Angels crashing out
by rick olivares

BANGKOK -- When the Philippines takes on Myanmar this Friday, November 30 at Supachalasai Stadium (the Thai national stadium), the Azkals have the opportunity to advance to the semifinals stage with a win over their struggling opponent.

The Philippines is flush with renewed confidence after its 1-0 win over Vietnam while Myanmar is reeling after a 4-0 beating by Thailand during last Tuesday’s matches at the Rajamangala Stadium. The win put the Philippines in prime position to move on while Myanmar, despite being at the cellar of Group A, has an outside chance of still advancing and spoiling the Azkals’ dreams of repeating their 2010 feat.

A win by Myanmar over the Philippines coupled with a Vietnam upset over semis-bound Thailand could see them through as well – provided they score a bunch of goals to offset their goal differential of minus-five. Myanmar’s South Korean head coach Park Sung Wa said that the task before them is a very difficult one. “We have a mathematical chance of going through but that will take a miracle. The Philippines has a very strong team. Their defense is strong and they have good offensive players. But we will give it our best.”

For the Philippines to avoid the complication of tiebreakers, the three full points from a win is the surest way to go through. However, qualifying against the White Angels, as the Myanmar squad is nicknamed, will not be easy. In the 16-year history of the tournament, the Philippines has yet to defeat Myanmar.

In 1998 Tiger Cup, the Philippines took a 2-1 lead after two strikes by Freddy Gonzalez. The White Angels responded with four goals to take a 5-2 win in Ho Chi Minh City.

In the 2000 staging of the Asean Football Championships, the two teams were in the same bracket once more. The Philippines took a 3-0 loss in their first game of the tournament.

Staring at another whitewashing in the 2002 tournament, Gonzalez scored a late goal to salvage a little pride and to prevent a shutout in a 6-1 loss to Myanmar. That match was again in the first match of both teams.

In December of 2004, a Fil-foreigner reinforced Philippines squad was heartbroken when San Day Thien claimed a stoppage time goal for a 1-0 win the first assignment for both teams.

With 500 people in the stands for the 2007 encounter of the tournament, the Philippines finally claimed a point off Myanmar with a scoreless draw at the Thai Army Sports Stadium.

The two teams did not face each other in 2008 but in Vietnam for the 2010 Suzuki Cup, the two countries figured in another scoreless draw. The point claimed by the Philippines saw them through to the semifinals stage.

“We only take this one game at a time,” said Philippine national head coach Michael Weiss. “You cannot take any team in this competition lightly no matter their standing. We will have to fight for our place but we are confident of our abilities.”

“The game will not be handed to us on a silver platter,” said striker Phil Younghusband who has yet to find the back of the net in the tournament. “Football can be strange. We saw defending champions Malaysia lose to Singapore, 3-nil, the other night. In our own group, Vietnam drew with Myanmar. We have to go out and win this.”

The Azkals will miss the services of midfielder Jerry Lucena who flew back to Denmark after his club, Esbjerg, recalled him. Lucena started in the Philippines’ first two matches against Thailand and Vietnam. But Weiss can still count on the services of Chieffy Caligdong, James Younghusband, Jason de Jong, Angel Guirado, Patrick Reichelt, Jeffrey Christiaens, Marwin Angeles, Carli de Murga, Demetrius Omphroy, and Chris Greatwich to platoon the midfield. 

Homegrown Azkals stand tall in win over Vietnam

Homegrown Azkals stand tall in win over Vietnam
by rick olivares

Homegrown Azkals Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong and Eduard Sacapaño both stood tall in last Tuesday’s 1-0 win by the Philippines against Vietnam in the 2012 Suzuki Cup at Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand.

In the 86th minute of the match against Vietnam, Caligdong corralled a chip pass from teammate Angel Guirado and volleyed from 10 yards to beat goalkeeper Duong Hong Son for the game winner.

“Nung hindi ako linagay sa starting eleven,” said Caligdong. “Dinasal ko na mabigyan ako ng isang pagkakataon para makabawi. Nabigla ako nung first game. Wala akong magawang tama. Nung pinasok ako para kay James (Younghusband against Vietnam), sabi ko, ‘eto na pagkakataon ko.’”

The goal was Caligdong’s 16th in international play.

Sacapaño on the other hand related his elation in joining Neil Etheridge in minding the Philippines’ goal in these two massive wins against Vietnam. “Malaking bagay na makalaro at maging kasama sa panalo dito.” The late strike by Vietnam’s Le Tan Thai where Sacapaño got a hand up to deflect the shot upward to the crossbar and outwards was a game saver. “Nakita ko yung volley niya. Instinct ko itaas yung kamay ko. Swerte rin na-block ko. This is a big win para sa bayan.”

Sacapaño, in his second Suzuki Cup campaign, saved eight shots.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesday in Bangkok

I really wanted to get out today so I finished all my writing really quick. Went to Terminal21 first but traffic was so horrendous that I didn't have much time to go around as I was meeting up with Bob Guerrero at Siam Paragon. We had lunch there, spent some time at Kinokuniya before heading to MBK to look for some stuff. The other day, I saw this cool beaten up shirt with Chang beer in front that was for sale in those street markets near Rajamangala. Didn't have time to go back to Ramkhamhaeng Road so MBK was my best bet. Bumped into Paul Mulders and Dennis Cagara doing a little shopping. Dennis was looking for some tiny boxing gloves for his kid. While I found my Chang shirt (see pic below).

You really have to try the street food. Haven't had this street pizza in years. Gave it a try but the one with the white stuff was cream. Too sweet for my taste buds. 

Our last stop via BTS was Nana where we went to Golden to watch the Group B matches of the Suzuki Cup. Craig Burrows, Roy Moore, and Jacque Palami joined Bob and I over there. I was disappointed that Singapore lost on a bogus call that cost them this match. Malaysia finally came alive against a laos Laos team. The final matches of both groups have lots of implications!

At Golden, well, had a slight encounter again. Hahaha. Ask Bob or Craig.

Ah, me in my Chang shirt. Got me a Robbie Fowler Muangthong United shirt and now this Chang tee it makes this trip worth it. 

Azkals’ Jerry Lucena to miss crucial Myanmar match

Azkals’ Jerry Lucena to miss crucial Myanmar match
by rick olivares

Philippine Men’s Football National Team player Jerry Lucena flew back to Denmark Wednesday morning as he was recalled by Danish club Esbjerg for a match this Saturday.

National Team Manager Dan Palami attempted to secure Lucena’s services for the crucial and final Group A match against Myanmar in the 2012 Suzuki Cup this Friday, November 30, but was unable to do so.

Lucena, who plays either as a defender or a defensive midfielder for Esbjerg, described his Suzuki Cup experience as “wonderful”.

“I didn’t do so well in the first game (a 2-1 loss to host Thailand). Maybe because it is the opening match and I wanted to do better in the next game against Vietnam,” explained Lucena. “It was a good win (the Azkals repeated over Vietnam, 1-nil to move up to second place in the group standings) and I am happy to be a part of the game and a the big victory. I want to play against Myanmar but I have to go back.”

It’s a 14-hour flight from Bangkok to Denmark where Lucena’s club, eighth-placer Esbjerg (4-7-7) will be playing an away match at TRE-FOR Park, home pitch for fourth-running Odense BK (8-4-6) in the Danish Superliga. “But I trust the guys. I will see everyone in the semis.”

Breaking down the win against Vietnam: This one rocks!

This appears in the Thursday, November 29, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Breaking down the win against Vietnam: This one rocks!
by rick olivares photo by mark ypon

Since the countries that comprised Group A of the 2012 Suzuki Cup encamped in Bangkok, Thailand, last week, Vietnamese head coach Phan Than Hung has mostly shunned the media (save for an ambush interview I was able to conduct). In his place, team manager and Vietnamese Football Association General Secretary Ngo Lec Bang has done all the talking.

Two games played. One point accrued. And another stinging loss to the Philippines following an 86th minute goal by Chieffy Caligdong (off a delicious chip of an assist by Angel Guirado). It was time for Hung to face the music.

When Hung faced the media horde at the press center of the Rajamangala Stadium, it looked like he had not slept one wink and would he be getting any afterwards. “The worst match since I took over. I am unbelieving.”

In the Red Warriors’ build up to Bangkok,  they lost to Turkmenistan, 1-0; beat Laos, 4-0; upset Malaysia, 1-0; and drew with Myanmar, 1-1, in their first game of the Suzuki Cup.

There is enormous pressure on Vietnam for sure. After the fall of the Red Warriors in 2010, Henrique Callisto was fired; a shocking end for someone who led them to the Suzuki Cup title two years earlier. The previous coach had a 3-2 record and was let go. Who knows what fate awaits Hung when the tournament is over and they fail to advance?

In the return bout at the Rajamangala Stadium, it wasn’t quite like 2010 where the Philippines was mostly on the defensive as they preferred to strike on the counter. This batch of Azkals engaged Vietnam from the get go and the resulting 1-0 win, was well, well deserved.

Let’s break it down.

The defense was solid.
This was probably the best-coached game for some time by the staff. Fantastic adjustment before and mid-game.

The defense was compact. Sure some balls slipped through but there will always be balls that slip through. Watching the defense switch to a 4-5-1, the Vietnamese did not have much room to maneuver or to even shoot. Vietnam striker Le Cong Vinh had at least one person on him all the time. If he turned, there was another Philippine defender on him. The Red Warriors could not really got a shot inside the box and had to tee off from outside.

In the first game against Thailand, the War Elephants would blow by our wing defenders for crosses although Dennis Cagara (on the left) and Ray Jonsson (on the right) were quick to recover. In this game, they were a step faster. Jason de Jong and Jerry Lucena were silent operators making good stops and crucial in clogging the middle.

Rob Gier is the top man on defense. He is to this team what Aly Borromeo was to the Azkals in 2010. If the ball got past Jerry Lucena or Jason de Jong (and Juani Guirado on one or two occasions), Rob cleaned up the mess.

If the ball did get past him, there was Ed Sacapaño.

There is a reason why Ed Sacapaño is a national player.
It is amazing what confidence can do to a person. Some quarters would opine that Sacapaño was the token Pinoy in the goalkeeping corps behind Euro-based studs Neil Etheridge and Roland Muller, but following his stellar performance in the Peace Cup and the Singapore friendly where he did not let a ball past him, his confidence is up and at an all-time high.

In the first game against Thailand, there was one instance where he rushed out haphazardly and a War Elephant headed the ball towards an empty net. Luckily for the Philippines, the shot was wide. Sacapaño realized that he should have not done so and he had dodged a bullet. He tapped his chest to acknowledge his mistake. Defender Juani Guirado gave him a low five in encouragement. He has stellar since.

How many saves did he have against Vietnam? Six or seven? Great saves including that powerful volley by Le Tan Tai in the 86th minute where Ed instinctively threw up a hand that redirected the ball to the crossbar and out.

Ed did the Philippines proud and from now on, the Vietnamese will not only see Neil Etheridge, Chris Greatwich, and Phil Younghusband in their nightmares but also Chieffy Caligdong, Angel Guirado, and of course, Ed Sacapaño.

The substitutions worked.
Good decisions on the starting eleven. Even better decisions, timely ones I might add, in the substitutions.

The coaching staff made good reads. The defense was solid. And the offense needed tweaking with James and Phil Younghusband and Paul Mulders unable to convert.

Before the kickoff of this tournament, Caligdong mentioned that he would love to make a contribution to this campaign. In the last Suzuki Cup, he got injured in the qualifiers and got hurt in the group stage opener against Singapore. In his place, Roel Gener started and played well.

Caligdong resurfaced with that spectacular goal against Mongolia in the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers.

In the opening match against Thailand, he looked out of sorts as he misread balls and got beaten by opposing midfielders.
Against Vietnam, he conspired with another sub in Angel Guirado for a couple of chances before the chip in the 86th minute that led to Caligdong beating one defender and firing the winning goal for the win.

Chief noted that he was getting in on the years with this being his fifth appearance in the biennial football tournament. He, of course, doesn’t know how long he can do this (he is 30 years old) but think about this: in his first game in the Tiger Cup in 2004 (as the tournament was called then), he came off the bench to score two late goals for a 2-1 win over Timor Leste. He added one later in a losing effort against Thailand in the same competition. And now The Chief struck again for the win.

The goal was also made possible by Angel Guirado who started slow but showed great effort in tracking back and in trying to jump start a sputtering offense. Angel made two great runs.

In the first, he took a pass on the right wing, kept the ball in play while beating a defender and blasted in a shot where a defender literally threw his body in the ball’s path just to block the shot. The second another run that led to Caligdong’s goal.

Guirado has been a terrific addition to the national team after 2010 and has even played great club football with Global in the last season. He was one of the stars in the successful Challenge Cup campaign and is showing in this Suzuki Cup why he is being counted on to tow the Philippines into the next round.

Southeast Asian football has been topsy-turvy but the Philippines have been consistent.
In 2010, if there were any teams that disappointed, it was Thailand and Singapore as they failed to advance to the semifinals.

In this tournament, defending champion Malaysia was shocked by a resurgent Singapore, 3-0, while Vietnam, is fast fading. Incidentally, the two are the past two Suzuki Cup champions.

For all the regional upheavals in football, the Philippines has been consistent and continues to rise. Of course, one win doesn’t mean we are through the next round, but if you look at the overall picture, the nationals clearly threatened Thailand and showed that the previous win over Vietnam was no fluke.

In over two years’ time, the team has made great strides. The nationals have made the Suzuki Cup semis once (and hopefully twice if we can get a win against Myanmar in the final group assignment), crashed the second round of the World Cup Qualifiers, finished third in the Challenge Cup, and won the Peace Cup (previously the Long Teng Cup).

The strides sure don’t look to stop any time soon.

We hold our fate in our hands.
Following the results of Tuesday’s matches, Thailand has booked itself a semifinals seat with a 4-0 thrashing of Myanmar while the Philippines has climbed to second place. Vietnam and Myanmar are in third and fourth place respectively because of the goal difference (the former is at a minus-one goal difference while the latter has a minus-four).

This Friday, November 30, the Myanmar-Philippines and Thailand-Vietnam clashes will kick off simultaneously at 8:20pm Bangkok time. The Philippines’ match will be played at Muang Thong Stadium, home of Thai Premier League champions Muangthong United while the Thailand-Vietnam tiff will be at the Rajamangala Stadium.

For the Philippines to advance to the semifinals, they must go for a win to avoid any complications. A win offsets any upset intentions by the Vietnamese against the host Thais.

Should Vietnam win and the Philippines draw with Myanmar, it will go down to goal difference.

The surest bet to advance will have to be taking home the three points.

Cards will play a factor in this match. If a player is docked a second yellow in the final group match, the suspension will carryover to the semifinals. Other than that, the slate will be wiped clean. It is possible that because of this, coaches might consider changes in their rotation.

Thailand’s Winfried Schafer might opt to sit striker Teerasil Dangda who has four goals to his name in two matches. Does Teerasil sit for their match against Vietnam?

For the Philippines, Paul Mulders, Eduard Sacapaño, Rob Gier, Jerry Lucena, and Phil Younghusband all have one yellow card apiece.

Myanmar’s David Htan and Kyi Lin and reserve players Kaung Sithu and Thet Naing, all have one yellow card each.

The final matches of Group A will definitely bear watching.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Got my Robbie Fowler Muangthong United shirt! And I am a happy man!

I couldn't sleep last night as I was excited about getting my hands on a Robbie Fowler Muangthong United shirt. You can chalk that up to being a long-time and forever Liverpool fan. You can read about the back story here. I was told that there were three Fowler white shirts left all in my size and that all the more had me salivating. I wondered what if the dude at Grand Sports had it wrong? I couldn't wear a shirt size smaller. What's the point if it doesn't fit? Daylight couldn't come soon enough.

I took a metered cab to Muangthong at 10am from the hotel and the trip going there would take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour with traffic. There's the toll fee of 55 baht as well. As soon as we got out of the city that was zero traffic. The scenery reminded me of going to Alabang while on SLEX. Once we got to Muang Thong there was this huge stadium to our left. It wasn't the club's home field though. A three minute drive later, we arrived at the home stadium where the club's offices were.

The facilities were mighty impressive. There was an office and locker room exclusively for their youth academy. There were locker rooms for the home and visiting teams. There was a press room and two stores for team merchandise. There were booths for concessionaires. Very first class. They had a wall with all the pictures and names of the players. There was also a massive wall for the current Thai Premier League standings. In the picture above, that is the team's practice facility. A turf field called Singha Park. One of the club coaches invited me over to the turf and he took my picture.

I arrived at 10:47 and was nervous when I saw the shop still closed. The sign said store hours were from 11am-9pm. I wondered if they opened on time because if they didn't the cab's meter would be murder on me (I had the cabbie wait). From the hotel it was about 177 baht. The shop did open on time and yes, there was a white Robbie Fowler shirt waiting for me. Dangnab near made my day (the cherry topping would be the Azkals beating Vietnam again). There were magazines with Robbie (I cannot begin to call him the G-word because as a hardcore Catholic that would be sacrilege), shirts, and mugs. I picked up a mug and some keychains. 

The shirt cost me 495 baht (since it was from the previous season). The away colors were still available but there were no more letterings for Fowler that matched it. Nevertheless, I was pleased. It's not Liverpool but it's the closest thing (until I get his Perth Glory shirt). Thanking the Man Above for this. I'm a happy man.

Monday, November 26, 2012

My search for a Robbie Fowler Muangthong United shirt

While it was the likes of John Barnes, Ian Rush, and Kenny Dalglish who turned me into a Liverpool fan (I guess I should also thank the Beatles), it was actually Robbie Fowler who made me hardcore. It was an incredible time to be a fan of Liverpool and English football when "God" blew into the scene. Somehow, I always make it a point to watch those Fowler highlights every month. Then as it is today, they leave me in total admiration. 

I've never had a LFC Fowler kit and I sure wish I had one. When I heard that he went to Thailand to play for Muangthong United, that was such huge news. And more so when I realized that former Vietnam national coach Henrique Callisto was managing the club! I recall speaking with a Singaporean friend to zip over to Thailand just to watch. Robbie is no longer here but today, I went around to look if there were still MTU kits with his name available. 

Robbie Fowler and Henrique Callisto! 
I first went to Rama 9 mall where they have a nice sports shop. Obviously that wouldn't be the place to look. They did have the Muangthong United shirt but none in my size. Then I went to Ramkhamhaeng Road where there are a lot of stores. It's the usual knockoff stuff with some Thailand national kits. Since I do not buy knockoffs, I spent little time here. My real destination was FBT Sports Complex that is located near Rajamangala Stadium. The building is a seven-story sports store. But all the football stuff are located on the ground floor. 

The Chonburi Sharks shirt that I got.
I first picked up a Chonburi Sharks shirt (199 baht). I know Thai sizes differ from ours but at first glance XXXXL sounds like something that sumo wrestlers would wear. But no. It fits me with a little bit of extra space. At FBT they had a nice stall there with DVDs of top English sides, MUFC, Chelsea, Arsenal, LFC, Tottenham and a few others. They also had a nice display set for Muangthong United with a cool t-shirt with a MTU dedication to Fowler (not again in my size since most Thais are slim). Should have taken a picture of that though. 

I did pick up their Muangthong United shirt (with the three stars). The shoppe lady told me to try Grand Sports next door because they still might have the Fowler MTU shirt. I did and it turned out that they are the makers of the official Thailand kits (for all their national sides). They didn't have the Fowler shirts anymore since that was from last season but they did call the club for me. They told me that there were three white shirts left with "Fowler" on them. It was close to 5pm when I learned of this and it was too late in the day to make a trip out with all the traffic. At least I have a lead! Tomorrow my search for  a Robbie Fowler Muangthong United shirt continues!

The Muangthong United kit that I got today (pic below). Not the Robbie Fowler version though.

Philippines vs Vietnam: Do or die Tuesday

This appears in the Tuesday November 27, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Philippines vs. Vietnam: Do or die Tuesday
by rick olivares pic by mark ypon

BANGKOK -- When both the Philippines and Vietnam take each on other this Tuesday at 530pm at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok, it will not simply be a do-or-die game to keep their alive hopes of advancing to the next stage of the competition but it will have some nervy undertones.

After the opening results of Group A play in the 2010 Suzuki Cup, Vietnam drew with Myanmar, 1-1, while the Philippines lost to Thailand, 2-1. Thailand is on top the group while Myanmar and Vietnam are tied for second. The Philippines is last in Group A. A win for either team is a must if they want to keep alive any hopes of advancing to the semifinals stage.

A day to remember and forget
For one country, December 5 is a day of celebration while for another it is a day of infamy. While not of Pearl Harbor proportions, the result of that football match in the 2010 Suzuki Cup had explosive results and set off a chain reaction that is felt to this day.

That chilly December night, the Philippines played Vietnam at My Dinh National Stadium to an overflow crowd of 40,000. It was the second match for both countries in Group B competition. Vietnam, the defending champions had pretty much their entire title team of 2008 back save for Le Cong Vinh who was injured. But they showed no signs of let up after they crushed Myanmar 7-1; the highest tally of the entire tournament.

The Philippines on the other hand, stunned mighty Singapore with a stoppage time goal from Chris Greatwich and some superb defending from its backline and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.

During the press conference that preceded the games, Singapore and Vietnam figured to score about five or six goals against the Philippines. But in one game, the Azkals showed that they were a much different team.

Against Vietnam, the team overcame a barrage of shots at goal before Chris Greatwich (the hero of the Singapore match), once more found the back of the net for a 38th minute goal. In the dying minutes of the game with Vietnam relentlessly pounding Etheridge and the Philippine’s defense, Phil Younghusband sucked the air and life out of My Dinh with an insurance goal in the 79th minute despite playing ill.

There was a near fight between then Philippines head coach Simon McMenemy and then Vietnam head coach Henrique Callisto who was upset because he thought that the Philippines parked the bus on them. The latter refused to shake the former’s hand following the match and in the post-game press conference, Callisto angrily confronted McMenemy outside.

Both coaches soon were replaced after the tournament for different reasons but between the two Vietnam was left seething.

A date circled in red
On November 27, the two countries will lock horns once more, this time in the all-important do-or-die match. However, once again it will be in their second assignment. Vietnam is hesitant to say the loss to the Philippines was a fluke. They are wary as is every one else. In fact, this is the first time since the tournament kicked off in 1996 where no one said that they expected to score x amount of goals against the Azkals. But they keenly await the rematch and have patiently waited so for two years now.

Both teams are different from the sides that faced each other in Hanoi. Of the four countries in Group A, Vietnam’s national team is the only one that will not parade a foreign coach.

“After 20 years, we have decided to not invite any foreign coaches and just go with a local,” said Vietnamese Football Federation General Secretary and national team manager Ngo Lec Bang. “We feel that we have learned a lot and maybe it is time to try out what we have learned on our own.”

The exact number of years is 17 since Brazilian Edson Tavares took over beginning a parade of eight foreign coaches who led the Red Warriors. It was with Portuguese coach Henrique Callisto with whom Vietnam tasted great success as they won the 2008 Suzuki Cup and placed third in 2010. He was succeeded by German Falko Gotz who managed the team for five games where they won three and lost two. “Not bad for some countries but unacceptable by our standards,” explained Bang.

Now patrolling the sidelines for Vietnam is 52-year old former national striker Phan Than Hung who led the national side to a mediocre finish in the 2012 Vietnam Football Federation Cup; a four-nation tourney where a South Korea university selection took home the trophy with a two win and one draw slate over the host country and Turkmenistan and Laos.

In an interview with Hung, the coach said that there is added motivation for Vietnam to be in the same group as the Philippines who famously inflicted on them a 2-0 loss at home in the last staging of the Suzuki Cup in Hanoi. “We remember 2010,” he said. “We would like to get back at the Philippines but that will not be so easy.”

It is a veteran Vietnamese side that is here in Bangkok for the Suzuki Cup. “Group of Death?” dispelled Hung, “ Either group is a ‘Group of Death’. You cannot take any team for granted.”

Bang admitted though that it is a young Vietnamese side that will be playing in the tournament with only 10 veterans of 2010 in uniform. One of their starting defenders was hospitalized the other day because of dengue fever. Their leading scorers in the last Suzuki Cup, Nguyen Trong Hoang and Nguyen Vu Phong will not be seeing action although top striker Nguyen Anh Duc is present and healthy.

Preview of the game
Against Myanmar, Vietnam dominated the first half with a lot of their attacks coming from the left wing. When they shifted the attack to the right they got their goal. Azkals coach Michael Weiss noted the Red Warriors control of the midfield. “Their middle and forward players are very fluid with the ball. If you allow them to play their game they will be dangerous.”

Vietnam on the other hand is worried about their state of their players. Several are down with niggling injuries and morale was low after conceding the equalizer to Myanmar. “We have to forget the draw and focus on the Philippines,” noted Bang with urgency. “The Philippines is strong and dangerous. They have tall players who can win headers. They were a bit unlucky in my opinion against Thailand but they will adjust.”

With the performance of the late game substitutes during the Thailand match, Weiss is looking to juggle his line up. He lamented the use of the long ball that his squad oft resorted to against Thailand. “A long ball is borne out of desperation and often does not help. If done at the right time and with the striker in place then maybe we will see a goal. But that is not what we want to play.”

“I need warriors to play on Tuesday.”

Sunday in Bangkok (an off day in the Suzuki Cup)

Bangkok reunion of the Back Four Bums. All four of us have been terribly busy the past few months making it really difficult to get together. Even here in Bangkok, our skeds do not cooperate. One brief moment, we were all in the same place together (and happenstance). But it was all good. We are planning something though.

From the media tribune at Rajamangala Stadium. The tribune was a death trap. Not only was it a treacherous climb but it was also slick because of the rains. I have never seen a stadium that was flooded up in the stands before this. Yes, the seats and tables were wet. You could not plug anything into the sockets because they were wet, and the water was two inches deep! 

Sunday! The original plan was to go to Chatuchak with my media colleagues who have not been there (first time in Bangkok for many of them). I couldn't really walk far so I didn't join them. Went to Nana with Bob Guerrero and Craig Burrows to watch the Group B matches of the Suzuki Cup. This is the prostitution capital of Bangkok and we freaking enjoyed it. Hahaha. First at Temptations (see the pic below) where Craig and I got nearly testy with some other bar patrons then we moved to Golden where we caught the second game. Ask any of us for what happened when you see us. Hahaha. 

At one point while at Temptations, I raised both my legs to the stool to ease the pain on my injured legs. (I applied a pair of sanitary napkins that the wife of TJ Manotoc gave me). One prostitute saw this and laughed. "Is it your monthly?" she asked. We had a laugh. She replaced my Chang beer and "mounted" me. Hahaha.

The first bar that we went to was The Stumble Inn that had seven massive TVs to watch sports. But since we wanted to see the sights we moved around. See the sked of the game in the pic above. Had a multi-tasking job of watching the Suzuki Cup on the left, Liverpool-Swansea on the right and Tweeting. Hahaha.

My first time to drink with Bob Guerrero (Craig Burrows had bottled water). We had Chang and Tiger. We all swapped football stories and the kind that goes with this place. Hahaha.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #348: Breaking down the loss to Thailand. This one hurts.

This appears in the Monday, November 26, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Breaking down the loss to Thailand: This one hurts
by rick olivares

I was excited for this match against Thailand. I felt that we could make history with another huge upset. Is it wrong to think that? Not at all. After all, the Philippine Men’s Football National Team has come a long way. But for a team that is much deeper and stronger, we let in two goals. Two years ago we never let two goals go past the keeper.

You’ll say the past is the past and today is different. Sure it is. And if that is so then that loss sends us crashing back to earth with a 2-1 loss that could have been 3-1. Thailand did not play power football like they used to. They played clinical football with surgical strikes. There’s much to learn from this.

Here’s how I break down that loss.

We started with a strong team but it was not our best line-up.
Say that again?

I thought that for the last several months, in training camps, practices, or friendlies, it was about developing chemistry and if some players did not attend then they would not play. Wasn’t that why the Younghusband brothers were benched?

Take a look at the starting eleven of the Azkals against the War Elephants:

Ed Sacapaño

Ray Jonsson   Rob Gier   Juani Guirado   Dennis Cagara

James Younghusband    Jerry Lucena   Paul Mulders   Chieffy Caligdong

Phil Younghusband   Angel Guirado

The substitutes were: Jason Sabio, Carli de Murga, Chris Greatwich, Jason de Jong, Marwin Angeles, Jeffrey Christiaens, Patrick Reichelt, and Ref Cuaresma.

Okay, so Neil Etheridge isn’t there but Eddie has played well as of late. I like Jerry Lucena and Dennis Cagara and have seen them make an impact on the team before but in the last few months, our team has seen more or less this line up:

Ed Sacapaño

Carli de Murga   Jason Sabio   Juani Guirado   Jeffrey Christiaens

James Younghusband  Patrick Reichelt  Jason de Jong  Chieffy Caligdong

Phil Younghusband   Dennis Wolf

You can throw in Demitrius Omphroy, Matthew Uy, and even Misagh Bahadoran in there with the Younghusband brothers coming in as substitutes.

Ray and Rob were there in Cebu so that helps and I am fine with that. But the moment I saw the starting lineup, we should have gone with the team that was a little more familiar with one another. I felt that Christiaens, de Jong or Reichelt should have started while Cagara and Lucena should have come off the bench until they take stock of the situation for them to help out. I thought that maybe jetlag might have set in as they looked terribly slow and out of sync on the pitch. Maybe another day, they would have been magnificent but I thought the first game was too much of a gamble for that.

Two days before kickoff, I asked Weiss if he was going with the lineup that he has played for the last few games or put in his “dream team.” He said that was a tough decision and one that he and the coaches would weigh.

In my opinion, it was the wrong one. By not starting with the players the coaching staff has gone to for the last few games, we were gambling on talent rather than chemistry. We played horrible football after the first 10 minutes as we resorted to the long ball.

Yes, we threatened early on but so did they. Once Thailand settled down they figured us out.

You might say that in hindsight the substitutions worked for the Philippines but you have to think why not start Reichelt or even Christiaens? The moment they donned the national colors they have been superb additions.

The early injury to Phil Younghusband blunted our early momentum.
After an accidental head butt, Phil went out twice and spent collectively some 10 minutes in the sidelines getting treatment from the team physios. Playing with 10 men blunted our attack or what semblance of it we had. That was enough time for Thailand to organize their defense and play

Then Jerry Lucena got hit on the back of the head and he went out for like two minutes or so and that gave Thailand even more time to establish control of the match.

I believe that up to the point where Phil got hurt, we gave them fits. In a post-match conversation with Thailand assistant head coach Alexandre Polking, he said that the early threat forced them to change their tactics.

With Phil and Jerry out one after the other, Thailand was able to wrest control of the match. It didn’t help that our midfield was pretty much non-existent or even influential.

Winfried Schafer is a genius.
In my pre-game story, Schafer lamented the long ball style of play that Thailand previously resorted to. As a Bundesliga veteran and a midfielder for Borussia Monchengladbach, he would distribute the ball to his forwards. His first instinct as a player is to pass the ball in an efficient manner.

The style of play that Thailand showed is a far cry from the smash and grab tactics of 2010 under Bryan Robson. The War Elephants were more deliberate in their build up. They played those small triangles on the attack and usually took one dribble before passing. Teerasil Dangda, the Muangthong United striker who leads the Thai Premier League in scoring was able to magnificently set up his teammates.

Schafer also preached fitness and conditioning and his players looked sharp, fit like horses, and darn precise.

After the Philippines threatened in the early goings, Thailand’s adjustment was simple. From a 3-4-3 formation, they went to a 5-4-1 formation. The extra defender on our right side saw the supply of balls shut down from that area.

On the attack, boy, were they creative. Anucha Kitpongsri (Chonburi) started out as the left-winger but he would sometimes lead the attack or drop back and let Theerathon Bunthaman (Buriam United) take his spot in the secondary. That gave us different looks. Both players play the same position for their respective Premier League clubs and can play either the wing or as a defender. Their build up from the back was especially impressive.

The system that Schafer has been promoting was on full display and if I wasn’t a Filipino, I’d be dancing and chanting along with their fans.

What was that all about, Coach Mike?
One thing about the Suzuki Cup that you have to appreciate is the tactical nous of coaches. The influence on European coaches in the Southeast Asian game has been incredible. Even the regional coaches have learned much and have become heroes in their own right.

Malaysia has Krishnasemy Rajagopal. Singapore has Raddy Avramovich. And Thailand has Winfried Schafer.

The Philippines has seen much success under Michael Weiss but in two years’ time, I have yet to see that organized build up from the back that he has talked about played on a more consistent basis.

I agree with Weiss that the referee, Otsuka Haruhiro, made plenty of questionable calls that favored the Thai divers but they did not by any chance change the complexion of the game. Incidentally, it was Haruhiro who also awarded yellow cards to two of our players that caused them to miss the match against Tajikistan in the AFC Challenge Cup. But again, four Thais were cautioned while there were only two to the Philippine side. But the costliest was the ejection of Weiss that means he will not be on the bench for the match.

I cannot understand this: during the post-match press con he said that he merely wanted to roll the ball to the fallen Thai player who fell after a collision with Dennis Cagara. Well, that didn’t look like a roll to me as he took a basketball free throw at the Thai and sank it (looks like living in the Philippines has seen the roundball game rub off on him somehow). And so Haruhiro sent him off. I don’t get it, he was even arguing with the fourth official who wanted to send him to the dugout. Instead, he watched from the stands. That for sure will make the match commissioner’s report. I just hope there are no further sanctions.

Prior to the ejection, with time running out, a free kick was won by the Philippines. Weiss pointed to his temple indicating to use one’s brains. No idea what he meant by that but I can only surmise from what happened is that he commended his players for using their brains.

Unfortunately, he didn’t when he threw the ball to the Thai player. It was a moment of pent up frustration he lost it. And now he won’t be there for the next game.

I asked Schafer what he thought of this and he expectedly dodged any controversy. But he did say that, “He’s (Weiss) a young coach and he will learn.”

Yes, we will learn and yes, there is still hope.
Vietnam, even with the return of 2008 hero Le Cong Vinh looked impressive in the first half. But Myanmar’s halftime adjustments saw them threaten on the counter and they won a penalty that proved to be the equalizer.

The Philippines’ late game adjustments worked and that was a magnificent cross by Reichelt that Paul Mulders volleyed home to pull back one. The momentum swung our way and we threatened a bit more. But the Thais, as they did in the first half, choked the ball out of the midfield to turn the tide once more.

That was a lesson in small ball tactics, passing, and team play that was served us.

On Tuesday, Vietnam will come out like gangbusters because they know, like us, that the match will be literally win or go home.

The Azkals have to win against Vietnam and Myanmar. No draws but wins with goals aplenty scored.

I remain a firm believer that the team will learn from this defeat and next Tuesday will be every bit as important as that home match against Kuwait during the World Cup Qualifiers of last year.

I’ve told friends that it will take us a generation for us to see us become a real football power. Everything that the Azkals are going through right now will prepare us for that. It’s a painful defeat no doubt after we threatened early and after the Mulders goal where the Thai crowd was stunned, we sure are on the right track.

Tuesday. For the marbles. And refrigerator magnets.