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, September 7, 2014

That Peace Cup loss: In pieces

This appears in the Monday, September 8, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

In peace pieces
by rick olivares

Make no mistake. The 3-2 loss in the Peace Cup Finals to Myanmar hurts as the Philippines is a bridesmaid for the second consecutive tournament. While the Peace Cup isn’t on the same level as the AFC Challenge Cup or the upcoming Suzuki Cup, this is a tournament that the team should have still won.

It was on home soil. It was in Manila for the first time since the Challenge Cup Qualifiers in March of 2013. Myanmar was on the ropes with about two minutes left from the end of regulation. It was a perfect way to continue dominance on a foe that once had its way with the Philippines.

From the time the two countries met in 1995, Myanmar, has been a tough foe. In the first ten years or so, the Burmese registered an imperious 6-0-0 slate against the Philippines. Then came three consecutive draws before the Azkals took two straight wins against them including one in the nation’s largest city, Yangon.

However, in the Peace Cup Finals, the Azkals conceded a late goal in stoppage time and the game winner in the first period of extra time as Myanmar gained its revenge by beating the Philippines in the capital city and sent the Raddy Avramovic era to a smashing start ahead of the Suzuki Cup. It would be interesting to note that the Serbian has won in all his stops – Oman, Kuwait, Singapore, and now Myanmar.

Myanmar-Philippines head-to-head match-ups:
Ho Chi Minh City
Bandar Seri Begawan
Chiang Mai
Shah Alam
Nam Dinh

All three of Myanmar’s goals came off mistakes:
Burmese striker Kyaw Ko Ko spotted Philippine keeper Roland Muller off his line and fired about a 30-yard blast from the left that struck the far post and ricocheted in in only the eighth minute.

Off a foul from the right wing, Burmese midfielder Min Min Thu rose above his defender to head home the equalizer in the second minute of the four-minute stoppage time.

And lastly, forward Soe Min Oo was left unmarked on the left side as he banged home the marginal goal at the 103rd minute.

It was a tough job for Kenshiro Daniels who I was surprised to see playing that right back position when that is not his natural position. Sure Kenshiro did pretty well but the late game lapse of concentration hurt. And that begs the question why Amani Aguinaldo or other veteran defenders were not introduced in the game to shore up the defense.

Maybe that is easy to say in hindsight. And I do not know the fitness level or even their frame of mind of the players. Fair enough.

Having said that, I thought that Mynamar discombobulated the Azkals’ midfield in the first half. With no proper build up, the Philippines resorted to long ball play. I liked them finding Patrick Reichelt on the right flank where he utilized his speed for which Myanmar had no answer. Why this wasn’t continuously exploited I don’t know. Now there’s nothing wrong with playing the long ball but if it’s because of the inability to move it up from the middle then there’s something wrong. Nevertheless, it was Reichelt’s speed that won the penalty that Phil Younghusband converted in the 71st minute.

Nevertheless, I’d credit Phil’s presence on the left side as the Burmese concentrated their defense there to stop the Philippines’ all-time leading goalscorer who tacked on his 37th international goal. That made it easier for Reichelt to exploit the spotty defense on the right.

I liked Misagh Bahadoran, another speedy and creative player on that side except that Global’s impact player didn’t have his mojo that night. Maybe OJ Porteria should have been introduced much earlier in the game.

I also thought that the Azkals were a little too passive in the first half as Myanmar had their way with the ball.

It was my belief that the Philippines needed to be aggressive on defense; to press the Burmese and so as not to be confortable in their sets. On offense, to make use of  better space and quickly support the attackers. And perhaps to pass and run into space and pass as there’s a tendency to over dribble and try to beat a gaggle of defenders.

True enough, the halftime adjustments by Thomas Dooley were superb as they pressed and hounded Myanmar into mistakes. And the Philippines were immediately rewarded when the ball went out to defender Daisuke Sato from just outside the box and his scorcher evened up matters. Reichelt’s speed netted a Myanmar penalty that Younghusband converted. Simone Rota looked to have bundled in a goal that would have served as a buffer but he was correctly flagged for being offside.

Right around extra time, after Bahadoran fouled a Myanmar player on the right wing to give the visitors a free kick, I hoped that this wouldn’t be akin to American midfielder Michael Bradley coughing up that ball that allowed Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo to find late sub Silvestre Varela who equalized with two minutes left in stoppage time in their recent World Cup clash.

Watching that goal made me sick to my stomach. As the game progressed, Myanmar got stronger and more resolute in their attacks. All game long, they went to their system, build up, use the spaces and find the cracks in the defense. Their set plays gave us plenty of trouble.

And though several of Myanmar’s players were seen battling cramps, their substitutes were far more effective. They never wavered even when they lost Avramovic who was banished to the stands or when they went down, 2-1, following Phil’s penalty goal.

I know we didn’t see the best performance of the Philippine team here. In fact, I don’t think that every player on the pitch wearing white functioned well. So this should serve as more than enough motivation to win the Suzuki Cup this November.

I remain hopeful and confident of our chances and supportive of the team. Can I do no less? Although, I have to say that Peace Cup loss still leaves me and I am sure a lot of others including the team and the officials in pieces.

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