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 20, 2016

2016 Suzuki Cup: Philippines v Singapore A missed & a golden opportunity

A missed & a golden opportunity
by rick olivares

I have mixed emotions following the Philippines’ scoreless draw with Singapore last night to open their Suzuki Cup campaign.

A point notwithstanding, it was disappointing because the Philippine Men’s football National Team is perfectly capable of beating Singapore whether they are at full strength or not. And they have done that in the past. But even as Singapore went down to 10 men when Hafiz Sujad was shown the red card for a high boot that caught Azkals captain Phil Younghusband on the chin, they remained resolute in their defense.

The Philippines had lots of chances to win this except they weren’t able to finish.

On the other hand, I cannot but help but think how times have changed. Singapore is a more defensive unit. In fact, Lions coach V. Sundramoorthy lined up eight defensive-minded players packing that five-man midfield to prevent the slick passing game of the Azkals.

The match had me thinking of the time during the 2010 Suzuki Cup when the two nations faced each other in Vietnam to open their campaigns. That also ended in a draw, albeit, 1-1. It was a disappointing result for Singapore that night as they had that roster that would eventually win the regional title two years later. Six years later, it is us who feels the disappointment because now, the Philippines faces powerhouse Thailand on Monday night and dangerous and unpredictable Indonesia this Wednesday.

Six years ago, Singapore complained about the Philippines parking the bus against them then getting sucker punched with a late goal by Chris Greatwich. Funny how times have changed. It was Singapore parking the bus this time around even when they were at full strength (even if they got the first chance of the match). And their defensive discipline and willingness to foul bothered the creative Philippine players.

The other difference is that the Philippines has gotten really better roster and talent-wise.

Somethings I want to point out:

I like the idea of the evolution of Phil Younghusband playing that deep-playing midfielder ala Andrea Pirlo or Steve Gerrard and finding teammates with those long and short passes. The work ethic was exceptional on both offense and defense. He even got a boot to the chin for his willingness to battle for every ball.

Stephan Schrock is an exceptional talent. From the moment of his introduction to the first team versus Sri Lanka in the World Cup Qualifiers of 2011, he has made things happen. And he once more did with his runs, passes, and crosses against Singapore.

Hikaru Minageshi was that impact substitution as he had lovely chances but he was unable to convert.

And the defense (Amani Aguinaldo and company) was very good.  

As good as the Azkals are, I’d like to see them play faster and with ore intent. Meaning, from kick off, attack and test their keeper. Yes, there were Schrock’s free kicks and Minageshi’s shots from close range but you’d like to see Lions net minder Hassan Sunny constantly tested with shots causing havoc on Singapore’s back four. I think when faced with resolute defending, balls in the box cause all sorts of problems. This is where you poach goals.

Anyways, the game is in the bag. So it’s a point, two less than we’d like. And on Tuesday, November 22, we’re up against Indonesia. That isn’t going to be easy. They are in flux but dangerous considering they gave Thailand fits in the second half of their Suzuki Cup opener.

Speaking of Thailand, the War Elephants were impressive too except that their concentration lapsed as Indonesia made a game of it in the second half.

In my observation, Thailand is very good offensively but are suspect defensively. They tend to leak goals and they just try to beat you with a shootout. If the Azkals can force the action in their own half, the War Elephants will be less adventurous. The Philippines just has to be ready for the counter. And of course, one has to be mindful of Thai forward Teerasil Dangda who is superb in and around the box and is good at making defenders look like traffic cones.

I think we can beat Thailand. It will not be easy. Definitely not. The game just has to be snatched and grabbed from the opening kick. It is best when the Thais are put on the defensive.

Since this current team came up in 2012, Thailand is 10-0 when they score first. They are 1-1-2 when the opposition scores first.

When the Philippine team talks about the Suzuki Cup, it isn’t about making the semi-finals. We have in the last three stages of the competition. It’s all about making the finals and winning it. If the PMNT wants to declare its intent, more than playing before the home crowd, why not take down a titan of the regional game?

The shot heard around the world was beating Vietnam, 2-nil, in Hanoi in 2010. They were the defending champs.

It can happen again.

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