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.

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 SacapaƱo

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 SacapaƱo

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.


  1. Congratulations for writing this very insightful article which befits a former student of Mrs Chee Kee. I hope you had your wounded knees attended to. Be sure to daub your knees with an anti-biotic like Polysporin and then sealed with a bandage to prevent infection.

    Hopefully, you will have something cheerful to write aboutin the next two games of the Azkals.

  2. I think if de jong is on the starting line up it could be different , having a "enforcer" on the field is I think good against the physical/combat play of Thailand .

  3. Rick, When EPL managers get sent off, they can watch from the stands. Being sent off when you are a manager just means you can't go to the technical area and be with your players and staff on the bench. But you can surely watch the game. Its FIFA rules.

    Also Rick, I don't agree just because they got 4 yellows to our 2 that the referee was correct. That elbow to Juani was a red and also they had a couple of tackles that were high that also needed a booking (yellow). I think you were watching a different game because all i saw was Thai knees on Philippine players' backs and heads all game long when they went up for headers. yeah, you can say that they were just playing physical, but the referee was really off his game. You can't say that those fouls plus the dives didn't change the complexity of the game because we couldn't get our momentum going because it was stop start all game long, whereas Thailand was just using those breaks to get a breather.

    1. You need to read it a whole lot better. I never said the ref was right. Lord knows, he flubbed many calls including what should have been a yellow against one Thai player who booted the ball out after the Mulders' goal. But if you know the game, teams playing physical is normal. It's up to you to adjust to the style of play. In 2010 we were accused of parking the bus but you do what it takes to win. It might be ugly but you do what it takes. If you think the fouls or non calls changed it then i do not know what you were watching because everyone here agrees it did not change the game, players included.

    2. Yeah, I just needed to get that out of my system because I'm so disappointed of our performance. I was expecting us to be the more physical side.

  4. I thought your in for fair play? when Ateneo receives lot of contacts youre disgusted. Mcmenemy is playing long balls that Thai coach isnt afan but its ok with u. Lets admit Sacapno improved but not yet for the task.2010 edition is a miracle'tsamba'. so stop dwelling in the glorious past and empathising w del rosario that he was cut in the list. Its good he is installing hard approach to soft players. PH football is still young,your local boys still cant match up and PH nees all the help we can get. atleast there is a change in the game from holy mary plays of ur man simon. If you really want to help then be the coach,santi for mgr del rosario tech dir

    1. i am applying for the head coaching position now.

  5. I agree that Weiss played a quirky line-up but maybe he decided to just "go for it" when he didn't have Wolf and Omphroy fit to play? Too bad Reichelt wasn't subbed in much earlier, he's great for bringing speed and accuracy to our delivery. I was surprised to see Angel made the starting XI. He can be effective but he hasn't played with the team in that formation in a long time. I hope Weiss decides to play more of the guys from our standard line-up next game. What was the point of weeks of training camps if the link-ups and communication that were established during that time aren't going to be used anyway?

    As for the ball throwing incident, sorry, that was hilarious! Did something just snap? I think the pressure is getting to Weiss. He knows that he has to do very well in the Suzuki Cup to justify a contract extension as manager, which I've heard he wants badly. He knows there are people who want him out, including a few players with loud and powerful friends, so he needs those wins.

    I believe the Philippines can win the next two games and still make it out of the group stages. Thailand was always going to be tough in their home stadium. I think Vietnam are the only country in Southeast Asian who now rank higher than us but they haven't been as consistent either. So get it together, coach, and good luck boys!

  6. For the anon @3:35pm, about del Rosario. If Anton ever gets another call-up to the team, he (like James Younghusband) will have to prove himself for a place in the starting XI. The truth is he's not as good as many of the fangirls think he is, not compared to the talent that's now available to the team. He brings spirit and fight to the pitch but he isn't the most reliable or technically capable player at crunch time. Respect is one thing, and of course we all respect him for bringing the Azkals and Phil football to the attention of the public, but I don't think management should prioritize seniority over skill if the team is to grow and improve.

    And these kids who just discovered football in 2010 really should stop over-romanticizing the team that played for us then. They were hungry, determined, and yes, heroic, but they were basically the Pinoy equivalent of Cool Runnings. Sure, their ragtag underdog story is lovable and yes, they'll always be part of our football history, but we shouldn't let that cloud our perception of them as players or as people.

  7. Hi Rick! I may have missed reading it in this blog or elsewhere but I'm wondering why Dennis Wolf did not play vs Thailand?

  8. Great Article Mr. Olivares. I always thought that Coach Weiss is very questionable in making crucial decisions. Thailand coach is a genius...agree. More power and good luck to the Azkals.

  9. A loss to Thailand, and wins over Vietnam & Mynamar shows that the Azkals have a very good chance to win this cup. Its been years that I have waited for resurrection of football in the time has come!...