This appears in the Wednesday, December 12, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.
Azkals back four is ready
Azkals back four is ready
by rick olivares
In four matches in this 2012 Suzuki Cup, the defensive line of the Philippine Men’s Football National Team has conceded only two goals. The Philippines has the best goal differential among the eight teams that competed in the group stages leading all the way to the semifinals. Tournament favorite Thailand, in contrast, has conceded three goals.
In three matches against Singapore this year (including two friendlies that the Philippines has won), the Lions have failed to find the back of the net.
Ed Sacapaño, starting in place of the unavailable Neil Etheridge, has been stellar since the Peace Cup. If beating Sacapaño has been difficult, so has breaching the back four been a difficult task.
Commanding the Philippines in the back as well as on the field is Rob Gier, who has also worn the captain’s armband in place of Chieffy Caligdong and James Younghusband. Alongside him Gier are Carli De Murga has started in place of the injured Ray Jonsson at left back against Myanmar and the home match against Singapore; Juani Guirado who has played superb defense also in the past two games; and Dennis Cagara who stopped many of the Lions’ attacks from the right flank.
Although Jonsson is ready to go, according to national team manager Dan Palami, De Murga still might get the nod as the starting right back because of his success against Singapore’s Aleksandar Duric.
Gier, who is in his second Suzuki Cup stint had this to say about the Azkals’ defense: “We know we have a slight achievement in the fact that a scoring draw will get us through. But when teams play to a draw it all ends up badly. The first thing we’re going to do is to keep a good shape and clean sheet.”
De Murga agrees: “We know we have a big opportunity to advance. But it starts in the back so we can give our forwards a chance to score. Their players like Shaiful Esah and Shahril Ishak are dangerous and have good chemistry. We have played them three times this year and have not given up a goal. But they have had many chances. It is up to us to play them better because they will have learned from our last match.”
Guirado, the older brother of Azkals midfielder/forward Angel Guirado, has been solid in the last two matches after a spotty start to the tournament. “Maybe I can say that it was because of nervousness and unfamiliarity with the tournament and the competition. But after our loss to Thailand, I challenged myself to play better. It feels good to contribute.”
The Philippines’ back four will be tested once more in the second leg of the semifinals clash with Singapore on Wednesday at the Jalan Besar Stadium. Kickoff is at 8pm.
Here are my thoughts on the Azkals' home match vs. Singapore in the 2012 Suzuki Cup.