This appears in the Friday, December 14, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.
Singapore boots the Azkals from the Suzuki Cup
by rick olivares pic by anton sheker
SINGAPORE -- Philippines head coach Michael Weiss described Singapore counterpart Radojko Avramovic as “a clever coach”. He might want to consider him to be a seer as well.
Before the Philippines’ home match against Singapore, Avramovic promised that “We will make sure they (the Philippines) will have to wait two more years to have a chance to win this tournament.”
Following a scoreless draw in Manila, the Lions returned home where they eked out a 1-nil victory at Jalan Besar Stadium to end the storybook run of the Philippines and book themselves into the first finals seat of the 2012 Suzuki Cup. Singapore will be gunning for their fourth Asean football championship and third under their Serbian coach, Avramovic.
The Azkals in the meantime, finished with their best record in the biennial competition with a 2-1-2 slate. They won two of their three group stage assignments (Vietnam and Myanmar) while taking in a solitary loss (Thailand in the tournament opener).
Singapore scored on a spectacular 25-yard volley in the 18th minute by Khairul Amri after Shahdan Sulaiman passed up on an inswinger to set him up for the shot.
The Philippines, noted for their stingy defense, was caught unprepared as they were not yet done fixing their wall. The ball dipped into the second post as Azkals keeper Ed Sacapaño stood frozen in the middle of the goal. This was the second time in the match where the Philippines took too long to get back into play. In the fourth minute, Sacapaño was assessed a yellow card for taking too long to put the ball in play.
This was characteristic of the team that once more started out slow. Unable to get their offense going, Singapore harried the Philippine midfielders for the ball. Once the Azkals coughed it up, the Lions found their wingers for runs that tested the Philippines’ defense.
In the 11th minute, defender Shaiful Esah, he of the accurate free kick, volleyed from 30 yards out that sailed just wide left. Six minutes later, Lions striker Aleksandar Duric slipped away from Rob Gier as he hoped to head a cross in but the Azkals keeper was wise to the move as he snatched the ball away before the striker could come into contact with the ball.
Then one minute later, disaster struck when Amri connected on his scorcher. The Lions striker nearly doubled his tally in the 30th minute but Sacapaño punched the ball out to safety.
It was in the 35th minute where the Philippines managed to turn things around. With better spacing on offense and defense, the Azkals were now able to move up the ball with a sense of purpose.
The Philippines had two terrific chances before the break. The first came in the 42nd minute following a connection between forward Phil Younghusband and attacking midfielder Angel Guirado, the former finally got to fire away one with purpose but the shot went straight to Lions keeper Izwan Mahbud.
A minute later, left winger Patrick Reichelt sent a long forward pass to James Younghusband on the right flank. Younghusband broke away from his defender and tried to lace a shot towards the second post as Izwan rushed out to block the shot. But the shot never got past the Singaporean who was able to get a full body behind the ball.
The introduction of Chieffy Caligdong following the halftime break further improved the ground play of the Azkals who began to wrest control of the game. However, the resiliency of the Lions’ defense prevented the Philippines from testing Izwan.
Finding themselves on their heels, Singapore only seriously threatened twice with both chances coming off a quick counter Duric was tackled by Gier and when Sulaiman and Fazrul Nawan both missed shots inside the Azkals’ box.
The Lions, who have been unable to beat the Philippines in their past three matches including a pair of friendlies, returned the favor to Philippines whose 1-1 draw in Vietnam two years ago helped oust them from semifinals play.
Singapore now has the opportunity to win their fourth Asean football championship and third under Avramovic who took over the Lions’ managerial chores way back in 2003. Whatever the result of the finals, this is Avramovic’s last ride with Singapore as his contract ends in February 2013. The Lions’ long-time Serbian mentor is said to be exploring coaching duties in the Middle East and in China.
As a victorious Avramovic emerged from the Lions’ locker room after the match, the Serbian made another promise if not prediction. “Your time is coming,” he said when asked about his thoughts about the Philippines. “They were already good in 2010 and they are much better now. In two years? It is possible they could be the champions in Southeast Asia. But there must be a lot of work done.”