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.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

3 points to take from Bataan’s win over Laguna

3 points to take from Bataan’s win over Laguna
by rick olivares

The Bataan Risers got off to a good start and held off the reeling Laguna Heroes, 77-70, in MPBL Datu’s Cup action. The win gives Bataan an 18-2 record; the best in the league, while Laguna falls to a 9-13 record. 

Here’s what we can take from Bataan’s win.

5 Risers scored in double digits
Four-fifths of the starting unit scored in double figures. Yvan Ludovice led the way with 16 points. Gary David added 11 while Pamboy Raymundo, Richard Escoto, and Gab Daganon each chipped in 10 markers to the overall effort.

Starting center Alfred Batino, who was plagued by fouls all match long shockingly scored only one point after which he fouled out.

In contrast, the Heroes only had three players scoring double digits in Ralf Olivares (a game high 18 points), Raymond Ilagan (14 points and 11 rebounds), and Rocky Antonares (13 points and 10 bboards). Although Laguna starting center Michael Mabulac scored nine points, their three other big scorers in Denok Miranda, Lord Casajeros, and Paolo Pontejos combined for eight points. Bataan played good defense on the trio who were held to a combined 4-16 field goal shooting. 

When a team is finding scoring from a number of players from the starting unit to the bench, it helps in the rotation and when looking for scoring opportunities. More scoring weapons means the defense will have to work harder.

The field goal shooting made up for a bad day off the boards.
Laguna won the rebounding battle with 51 rebounds with 25 coming off the offensive glass. The Heroes were able to pump in 23 points. While Bataan managed 37 total caroms and a measly two second chance points. 

Obviously, the foul problems of Batino hurt. And surprisingly, Vince Tolentino played a little over under seven minutes. He scored two points and wasn’t able to field any rebounds. 

Luckily, Bataan shot rather well from two areas where they have struggled of late – three-point shooting and free throw shooting.

Laguna hit 42% of their field goals while Bataan was good for a 40% clip.

From three-point range though, they did a number on the Heroes. Bataan was 10-28 while Laguna was a poor 1-17. And from the free throw line, the Risers knocked down 17 of 24 shots while the Heroes shot themselves in the foot by missing 21 of their 32 free throws.

Ludovice & Escoto continues to be a huge pick up for Bataan
The recent acquisition of Yvan Ludovice and Richard Escoto has paid dividends for Bataan. Escoto is 4-1 since he joined Bataan while Ludovice is 3-0.

Ludovice is averaging 11.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists while Escoto is norming 9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. 

But it isn’t solely due to the two. Gab Daganon has become an important player for Bataan in the past four games. Daganon’s season average is 5.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. However, since the loss to San Juan, Daganon has played more minutes and become a force off the bench. In that time, he has put up 9.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists; nearly doubling everything in 15 minutes of action per match. 

Bataan ended 2018 with only their second loss in 16 outings. This January 2019, they are 4-0. Another streak has begun.

New forward-center Barkley Eboña will make his long-awaited debut for Bataan this February 4 when they take on Muntinlupa.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Lamar Odom: One last campaign for his basketball bucket list

Lamar Odom: One last campaign for his basketball bucket list
by rick olivares

It was a visibly tired Lamar Odom who made his way to the Luna Members Café at the Bonifacio Global City. “Still somewhat jetlagged,” he offered. “Tired too. I’m older, I mean. Not as young as I once was.”

The 6’10” former NBA star is playing with Mighty Sports for their upcoming participation in the Dubai International Basketball Tournament along with Barangay Ginebra import Justin Brownlee and Randolph Morris. 

The event at the café is a meet and greet with fans; the last media event for Odom before the team heads out to the Middle East.

Despite his obvious tiredness, Odom, though a man of few words, is game and very warm with the fans and the few media present.

At 39 years of age, one can say, that he is on his last basketball legs. It has been five years since he last played in the NBA; with the New York Knicks. Prior to that, he suited up for Laboral Kutxa Baskonia in the Spanish League. A back injury limited him to two games. And health is his paramount concern today.

“There are days when I ask myself, ‘why am I still doing this?’ But I realize that’s just the morning blues, you know what I mean? Then I know I am doing something that I love and that is playing basketball. So I will do this for as long as I can or my body can.” 

The native New Yorker first made a name for himself playing for the Los Angeles Clippers then for building neighbor, the LA Lakers. In his two decades of playing professional basketball, Odom has won two NBA championships with the Lakers, a Fiba gold medal and Olympic bronze medal. He has been feted the awards for making the NBA All-Rookie Team and later, as Sixth Man, also with the Lakers. What else if left on his basketball bucket list?

“To win a championship abroad,” he quickly put. “That is something I have never done.”

In terms of adjusting to the new cultures, it isn’t so much of a problem. “The different times maybe,” he put. “But as far as the game is, it is no different from playing in the US. But what I like about playing abroad is how it broadens your horizons. You meet new and different people. Develop new networks. Who knows what that will bring?”

Odom stopped short of guaranteeing a championship in the Dubai tourney. “All I will say is I, we, will do our best,” he summed up. “I know that basketball is a culture here, and it means a lot to the fans. So, all I can do is my best and hope we get it.”

Friday, January 18, 2019

My thoughts about Bataan’s win over Navotas

My thoughts about Bataan’s win over Navotas
by rick olivares

The Bataan Risers won their third straight game in the ongoing Datu’s Cup of the MPBL with an 84-78 triumph over a tough Navotas Clutch.

Here are my thoughts about the game. 

First of all, it is a good win where the new additions incorporated well.
Three-match win streak and one taken in – no pun intended – in the clutch. That was a huge three-point play by Richard Escoto that tied the game at 78-all with 3:03 left in the game. Then Yvan Ludovice buried a huge jumper to give Bataan a two-point lead. While the game saw both squads exchange runs and leads, Bataan was steadier in the endgame. And it seems that the Risers have found a big game player in Ludovice who will help for the title run.

At 17-2, this is a solid win. New additions Ludovice and Escoto both played well. This is something the Risers will need as the season winds up.

Four players scored in double digits
For the first time all season, three of Bataan’s starters – Byron Villarias (12 points), Gary David (11 points), and Alfred Batino (10 points) scored in double digits.

Furthermore, there was solid support from Escoto who led Bataan with 15 points and seven rebounds. Ludovice added nine points while Pamboy Raymundo and Gab Daganon each chipped in seven points. Raymundo also added 10 assists. 

The points off the bench by Escoto, Ludovice, and Daganon are crucial because it gives Bataan some steadiness while the starters rest. Total bench points by Bataan – 43 to 23.

Three other crucial stats in favor of Bataan include:
Points off turnovers: 28-11
Points in the paint: 46-26
Second chance points: 16-15

This is important because the rims at the Bataan People’s Center are very unforgiving. In basketball parlance, walang awa.

And having said that, here are a few concerns: Bataan shot poorly once more from the free throw line: 12-23. Granted Navotas did not fare better, as they hit 12-25. But that is no excuse. 

Furthermore, they made things interesting in the endgame with two misses from the free throw line that could have turned a four-point lead into a six-point margin. Luckily, Jojo Duncil lost the ball to Daganon and Navotas’ Donald Gumaru missed a triple. 

Robbie Celiz struggled in this game. He had six field goal attempts and missed all of them. Bernie Bregondo was used sparingly yet he managed to tally four points and three rebounds.

So far, Bataan is 3-0 (including wins over Rizal and Zamboanga) in 2019. 17-2 in 19 games in 2019. They have one more game this January and it will be on the road against the 9-11 Laguna Heroes. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

TIP squeaks AMA in BBI U25 caging

TIP squeaks AMA in BBI U25 caging
by rick olivares

The Technological Institute of the Philippines Engineers gave credence once more to the basketball saying, “bilog ang bola.”

The AMA Titans Team B was seeded to send TIP crashing to its third defeat in four outings. Instead, it was the Engineers who went home with the win to even their slate to 2-2 in the Breakdown Basketball Invitationals Under-25 Division for Team B.

From a closely fought match in the first 18 minutes, TIP gained the upper hand after Ximone Sandagon hit a jumper to give the Engineers a 29-28 lead at the 1:54 mark of the second period and go on a 6-0 run to close out the first half of play.

From that 33-28 lead, TIP slowly padded their lead as much as 14 points.

AMA rallied in the fourth period behind the three-point shooting of Fran Asuncion and the inside play of Luke Parcero whose two free throws brought the Titans to within a bucket, 68-66, 48 ticks left in the game clock. 

Titans’ guard JR Barde stole the ball from TIP but sniper Dexter Castillo’s potential game-tying basket was thoroughly rejected by Engineers power forward Bryan Santos. 

Mark Yu got another opportunity for AMA as he stole the ball from Jayson Jimenez but he too turned the ball over. TIP iced the game with three free throws, 71-66, for the win.

TIP’s Bryan Santos led the team in scoring with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks. Guilber Carurucan backstopped him with 13 points, four rebounds, and five assists. 

Mark Yu topscored for the game with 16 points for AMA that also got double digit scoring from Parcero (15 points), Asuncion (13 points), and Barde (10 points). What hurt AMA was their poor field goal (33%) and free throw (15-29) shooting. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

SE Asia in the 2019 Asian Cup

SE Asia in the 2019 Asian Cup
by rick olivares

If you look at the ongoing Asian Cup, of the three Southeast Asian squads – Suzuki Cup champions, Vietnam; Thailand; and the Philippines, it is only the middle team that has a chance of advancing. 

Thailand lost embarrassingly to India, 4-1, after which they took down Bahrain, 1-nil. Any chance of advancing will depend on their final group match against Group A leaders United Arab Emirates and how India fares against Bahrain. A win will not be enough; it will also entail a huge score line to advance.

At least they put themselves in a position to advance.

Vietnam absorbed a painful 3-2 loss to Iraq when Adnan scored in the 90thminute. In their second fixture, they were defeated by Iran, 2-0. In their final game of the tournament, they will play winless, Yemen, that has yet to score in the tournament. A consolation win for the Suzuki Cup champions? We will see.

The Philippines will likewise play a consolation match against Kyrgyzstan after losing its first two games, 1-nil to Korea, and 3-nil to China.

The last time Southeast Asian squads booked Asian Cup slots was in 2007 when they qualified because they were all co-hosts to bring Asian football’s biggest event in our region. Thailand and Vietnam both finished with 1-1-1 records, Thailand went 1-0-2, and Malaysia winless in all three games. 

Prior to that, Thailand’s best ever finish was when they finished third place in 1972 while Vietnam finished fourth spot in 1956 and 1960.

However, those days are long gone because back then, the competition featured four to six squads only. And since the late 1980s, we’ve seen the rise of the West Asian countries. In the ongoing Asian Cup, the West Asian countries that are poised to advance to the second round are Jordan, UAE, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. That’s a lot for one region.

And it isn’t only in football, but also basketball, where they have also excelled. 

It is easy to say that they have a lot of money to spend on development, but that is also not necessarily true. And mull on these truths…

Iraq and Palestine do not even play their “home” games at home. For years, they have been hampered by State-sponsored terrorism and by external enemies such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Palestine doesn’t even have a country to call their own. 

Both Iraq and Palestine play for something bigger than the love for the game and that is why they excel. Laterally, we hear Catalonians say that about FC Barcelona and the way they play. There is something more that fuels them. 

And although non-West Asian, India’s most popular sports are cricket and field hockey! Imagine that! Football is just growing. 

Having Australia, a top world power in just about any sport, is a much-welcome addition in Asian sports. You want to test yourself against the best. 

Thailand and Vietnam have very good football programs and are consistently among the Southeast Asian region’s best. Why have they struggled to qualify for Asia’s top football competition as well? What are we missing here? 

Is it a question of genetics? Attitude? Culture? Money? Vision? The luck of the draw?

In my opinion for Philippine football, I think that we should start with the most immediate ones outside grassroots development – winning Southeast Asian Games age-group competition as well as the Suzuki Cup. Then we can set our sights on the bigger regional prizes. 

We should look to emulate the discipline that Japan brings to their program, the Australians’ mania for detail, planning, and order that they have down to a science. And we should also play for something in the manner that the Iraqis and Palestinians do. 

I am immensely proud of how local football has progressed. We’re right there – poised to make that big leap. Three finishes in the semi-finals of the Suzuki Cup – you cannot say that it is a fluke. We have to keep going at it (but with a coherent plan and not stop-gap measures). I am okay with the 1-nil loss to Korea, but before you even consider that as a landmark score – it is not – you have to repeat it again. To say that you are over the hump, you have to do it against repeatedly. And really, Korea hasn’t played well in this tournament. They have struggled to a pair of 1-nil wins. Let’s see where they are when they play China in their final group game, and if they get going after that. 

I am proud that the Philippines made the Asian Cup. Philippine football has definitely made great strides in the last 10 years. I hope we make the most out of this and continue to get better. I think it’s out there for the taking.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Looking at the Bataan Risers’ 76-74 win over Zamboanga

Looking at the Bataan Risers’ 76-74 win over Zamboanga
by rick olivares

The Bataan Risers knew that they were in for a fight against the Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines. And it was a tough one. Where they had to come from behind to win, 76-74, and to keep pace the Manila Stars who opened the double header at the Bataan People’s Center with a 71-70 win over the hard luck Rizal Crusaders.

The win, the game, had its share of positives and negatives, in our opinion.

Let’s go through them.

Bataan Risers (16-2)
Big pick up in Ludovice
It was a great debut by Yvan Ludovice for Bataan. Ludovice tallied nine points, four rebounds, four assists, and one steal against one turnover. He hits big shots and stabilized Bataan with his entry and finish. 

Big pick up. Surprised though that Arvie Bringas was not fielded more so since Richard Escoto did not play.

But back to Ludovice. With his output, along with Pamboy Raymundo, they somewhat offset the shooting of Zamboanga’s Robin Roño who finished with 18 points including two big triples in the fourth. It was Roño’s shooting that kept them in the game.

The tandem of Alfred Batino and Bernie Bregondo
The two have been solid in the last few weeks of play. The duo have provided an inside presence for the Risers.

Batino, ever the fighter, finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds to go with two blocks while Bregondo added eight points, nine boards, and a block. 

Give the ball to Gab Daganon
I have watched this kid since his time at Perpetual Help and he was huge when attacking that basket. He has the hops and the finishing. Plus, the vision to make that pass. It was a luxury for the Altas when he partnered with Scottie Thompson. But it was hard to makes plays then as Thompson and Bright Akhuetie held the ball for about 90% of the time.

But Daganon is a slasher who can create. Maybe it’s time to give him that ball and make things happen. He finished with 12 points, three steals, and two rebounds in 20 minutes of play.

Tenacity off the boards and second chances
This game was won in the trenches. Bataan pounded Zamboanga, 44-26, inside the paint and scored 14 second chance points to the opponents’ eight. Vince Tolentino also gave quality minutes.

Here are our concerns.

Getting Gary David untracked.
The veteran has struggled in the last few games. He usually starts well then tapers off. After David scored the first five points for Bataan, he missed his next four shots and committed two fouls. He returned with about six minutes left in the second period, took one shot that he missed then didn’t do much until he was subbed out with 1:55 left.

In the third, he committed another foul then hit a jumper to make it, 44-41, Zamboanga by three. That would be his last bucket as he finished with seven points on 3-15 shooting (although he added a rebound and an assist). 

I know a gunslinger is supposed to keep shooting until he finds his range, but maybe it is time to attack that basket and get his confidence from there.

Shot selection.
The shot selection was poor in the first half and the poor shooting and turnovers allowed Zamboanga to stay head above water for a time. I like that Ludovice took care of the ball and that he, Raymundo, and Byron Villarias are willing to share that ball.

The turnovers and leaving windows open for opponents to take the game.
The rim at the People’s Center might be unforgiving, but that isn’t an excuse. After all, San Juan took a game there. And the Risers have struggled with their shooting too.

Sure, Roño hit big shots with someone draped all over him. But the missed free throws down the stretch by Raymundo made things a bit more interesting. Granted there was 0.5 seconds left and the best strategy was to miss the second free throw. But Bataan should put away these games.

Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines (7-11)
They too have a huge pick up in Robin Roño. But in my opinion, they go too much for the outside shot (along with Von Lanete). They need to pound that ball inside with Allan Santos and Ivan Villanueva. Thirty-eight three-point attempts is just way too much. 

This is a re-tooled squad and they need to work on their chemistry. The final stats on assists do not tell the whole picture but they need to work on ball movement and team play. 

Zamboanga has selfless players in Villanueva, Harold Arboleda, and Ryan Buenafe who will do a lot of the dirty work – playing defense, grabbing rebounds and fighting for loose balls, and playmaking. That is what made them effective with their respective college squads. Granted semi-pro or pro ball is different as is their places on the team. But I still think that they are not being utilized in the manner they can contribute. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

2019 Asian Cup: India sends shockwaves with 3-1 win over Thailand

2019 Asian Cup: India sends shockwaves with 3-1 win over Thailand
by rick olivares

India celebrated its fourth entry into the AFC Asian Cup with a stunning 4-1 win over Thailand yesterday, January 6 at the Al Nhayan Stadium in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Indian scoring machine Sunil Chhetri scored a brace in leading his country to its first Asian Cup win since 1964.

Midfielder Anirudh Thapa and Jeje Lalpekhlua added in the effort against Teerasil Dangda’s lone goal for Thailand.

Ironically, India once placed second in the Asian Cup and that was back in 1964 when only four nations – Israel, South Korea, Hong Kong, and India – participated in the Asian Cup. Israel won the cup over India which defeated South Korea, 2-nil, and Hong Kong, 3-1. In the two other times India qualified – in 1984 and 2011 – they finished with a combined 0-1-6 record.

The win should send shudders down the spines of Asian footballing nations because that scoreless draw with China in October of 2018 is apparently no fluke. 

And the second most populous country in the world after China -- where cricket is king and field hockey is second -- is also knocking on the NBA’s door when 7’2” Satnam Singh Bhamara being the first Indian drafted when the Dallas Mavericks chose him with the 52ndpick in the 2015 draft. Bhamara didn’t play a single NBA game and is instead plying his trade in the D-League where a countryman of his, 6’9” Palpreet Singh Brar is also performing and also has the chance to be the first Indian to play in the NBA. 

During the draw against China and in the win versus favored Thailand, that made the semi-finals of the recent Suzuki Cup despite missing several key players including Dangda, the Indian defense shone. Just as they did against China, gritty goal keeper Gurpreet Sangdu and defenders Anas Edathodika, Subhasish Bose, Sandesh Jhingan, and Pritam Kotal held off Thailand. 

It should be noted that against both China and Thailand, the opposing teams owned the majority of possession and completed more passes. Of course, the majority of ball possession doesn’t translate into a win. It is India more hurting opponents on the counter while playing stingy defense. 

Completing the historic night for India was the 34-year-old Chhetri who with his two goals, moved past Argentine superstar Lionel Messi with his 66thand 67thgoals in 105 matches. Messi has who has so far scored 65 goals from 128 matches. Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is the highest scorer with 85 from 154 matches. 

A draw in either of the two coming matches against UAE and Bahrain could see 97thranked India through to the knockout round. 

Louie Alas: Napoles & Dennison can help define Phoenix’s identity

Alas: Napoles & Dennison can help define Phoenix’s identity
by rick olivares

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes. We know the cliché, but in the case of the Phoenix Fuel Masters, this is possibly the year where they take that next step.

Phoenix finished last season’s Philippine Cup with a 5-6 record, a 4-7 record in the Commissioner’s Cup, and an 8-3 slate in the Governors’ Cup—good for second in the elimination round – before getting ousted despite a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals by the Meralco Bolts.

Entering his second season at the helm, veteran coach Louie Alas thinks that this is when his team begins to make strides.

“We need to define our team identity though I stressed it last year,” pointed out Alas. “We were very inconsistent with our defense. Parang day and night. We need to define our defensive identity and make it our barometer in winning.”

The Fuel Masters’ coach hopes that the new additions will help define that and based on what they have done and how they look, they could be just what the doctor ordered for Phoenix.

Regarding his rookies, Alas is high on Jorey Napoles and Ron Dennison who were both signed to one-year deals by the ballclub. “Jorey stands 6’4” and has a wingspan of 6’8”. Now, this kid out of TIP (Technological Institute of the Philippines) can play. The only problem is his position is stacked and loaded. We have Calvin Abueva, Jason Perkins, and at times when we will play him there – Alex Mallari. Patience will be required of Napoles.”

The 5’11” Ron Dennison on the other hand, reminds Alas of Ping Exciminiano when he was a part of the Alaska Aces. Like Exciminiano who also was a tough defensive stalwart for Far Eastern University in the UAAP, Dennison will be a stopper. 

“Ron is a tough hombre,” said Alas. “He’s fearless.” When Dennison starred for FEU (helping them win a championship in 2015), he took on the opposing team’s top point guard or scoring swingman) such as UP’s Paul Desiderio, Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena, or even Adamson’s Jerrick Ahanmisi. 

“However, just the same, he (Dennison) has to earn his spot in the substitution pattern,” cautioned Alas.

Also, joining the team are veterans Alex Mallari and power forward Dave Marcelo who arrived in a trade with NLEX. 

The Fuel Masters also have several players who have represented the country in recent years. Aside from Matthew Wright, arguably one of the brightest talents in the PBA today and Abueva, there is JC Intal, RJ Jazul, and Rey Guevarra who were all with the Gilas program at one point. Both Jazul and Guevarra played for Alas when he was coaching Letran in the NCAA. 

2019 Asian Cup Preview: Philippines vs South Korea

2019 Asian Cup Preview: Philippines vs South Korea
by rick olivares

Group C action in the 2019 Asia Cup kicks off and the Philippines has drawn one of the toughest assignments in its footballing history.

Will Korea live up to its billing as a tournament favorite? Can the Philippines rise above the moment and show they are here as a competitor and not as a foil?

Let’s break it down.

When the current Philippine National Football Team program was put in place in 2008, the goals were ambitious but practical. It was to fight for respectability in Southeast Asia (and maybe bagging a championship or two) and breaking through in Asia and hopefully, the Fifa World Cup.

It might have been like a slow burn and the big titles they have aspired for have eluded them. But you have to say that great strides have been made by the Azkals in that time.

And now they are making their debut in the Asian Cup. And if this is the swan song for Phil Younghusband and a few others who have been instrumental in this renaissance, then this their time to shine. 

Of course, that is easier said than done since they are in a tough group. And they just happen to go up against one of the tournament favorites in South Korea. 

Sven Goran-Eriksson promised surprises against South Korea what it is we will find out come kick-off. Analysts can point out to South Korea having experienced players in the top leagues in the world and sure, we aren’t discounting that at all. 

Both teams don’t really know each other as they have not played each other before. 

I believe that the key to the game will be the Philippines’ aggressiveness. All the Korean players are in the midst of all their professional legs – the middle of their seasons if you will – so there will be a bit of weariness in their legs. The Philippines’ is fresh, but that can also work against them. I know that the Koreans have yet to concede a goal in the qualifiers but this is where every team is good at the moment. The fat has been trimmed. 

They should be aggressive and test South Korea’s defense. Make them commit their defenders in the back rather than move up in support. 

If Stephan Schrock and the Ott brothers can stand strong in that midfield and create chances, it will really help the cause. 

I am not sure if the style that the Philippines displayed early in the Suzuki Cup where they’d play defensively then go on the attack with a build up from the back. I do not think the Philippines should allow Paulo Bento’s team to dictate the pace. 

They should attack and test South Korea’s discipline in the back. But to also quickly backtrack because South Korea plays at a fast pace. 

Strengths– This is arguably the best line-up that the Philippines has ever fielded. They have experience and as this team has been together for a bit now, familiarity and confidence. But that confidence will be tested in these unchartered waters. Javi Patiño is in the line-up. If he can help out and be tough up front, that will augur well for Goran-Eriksson’s team.

The team has speed and even toughness. 

Weaknesses– When the ground game isn’t there, they resort to the long ball. They can also be leaky on defense. And the decision making sometimes in the final third is questionable. 

South Korea
En route to the Asian Cup, manager Paulo Bento played his European veterans at one point, then gave exposure to others. As a result, he has a squad that is flush with confidence and is looking forward to gain revenge (on China for their loss in the previous World Cup qualifiers). They cannot look far ahead to China but concentrate on the Philippines. 

As that loss to China shows, anything can happen in sports. It sure is a nice advantage to have quality players and a very good coach. 

Strengths– The experience gained by their players who ply their trade in Europe or Asia. With that comes confidence and better skills. You have to like the quality they bring to bear. And they aren’t scrubs. 

People will always look to Song Heung-Min or even Ki Sung-Yueng who play in England, but in my opinion, Hwang Ui-Jo, who has been outstanding with Gamba Osaka in the J1 league, could have a strong tournament.

I expect him to play off of Son. If this tandem can get going, Korea will be a handful. 

Weaknesses– We previously pointed out that their European players are in the middle of their respective seasons. Could fatigue be a factor? Possibly. Overconfidence? Possibly too. This is now incumbent on Bento to manage his squad.

For all their European experience, the fact that this team hasn’t had much meaningful practice in recent weeks means the timing between teammates could be a bit off. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Looking at the Azkals’ Group in the 2019 Asian Cup

Looking at the Azkals’ Group in the 2019 Asian Cup
by rick olivares

The Philippines finds itself – in its maiden AFC Asian Cup appearance – in a tough bind. All the three other countries in Group C are ranked higher. Korea is the 53rdranked country in the world. China is 76thwhile the Kyrgyz Republic is 91st. The Philippines is currently at 116.

The Philippines will no doubt build on a good performance in last year’s Suzuki Cup where they returned to the semi-finals after missing out the last time. But they will have their hands full.

Korea is one of the favorites (along with Australia and Japan) to win the 2019 Asian Cup. Under former Portuguese national Paulo Bento (who played in the World Cup and the European Championships saw his squad finish undefeated in the qualifiers, 8-0, while not conceding a single goal. Japan matches their undefeated record as well as their scoring 27 goals while keeping eight clean sheets. Reigning Asian Cup champions Australia suffered a shock 2-1 loss to Kyrgyzstan but still qualified outright as they topped Group A with a 7-1 record. 

Korean fans are high on the Taeguk Warriors utilizing Bento’s tactics (4-2-3-1) where his team builds up from the back then attacks with speed and aggressiveness. Bento famously also managed Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo to the semifinals of the 2012 Euros but bowed out of the group stages of the 2014 World Cup. 

Managing Korea, at first Bento utilized team captain Son Heung-Min who plays for is Tottenham in the English Premier League like he did with Ronaldo; a target man up front. But in the recent qualifying matches, he lined up other players and not his Premier League veterans to see what they could do. And he does have quite a few players he can ask to carry this team. 

The Taeguk Warriors are flush with players who are playing top flights leagues in the world. Son Heung-Min is a regular fixture for manager Mauricio Pochettino and has scored 12 goals in all competition for the Spurs (including eight in the PL). 

Ki Sung-Yeung is with Newcastle United where he has made 12 first team appearances this season for manager Rafa Benitez. 

Korea also has several German Bundesliga players in Ji Dong-Won and Koo Ja-Cheol who both suit up for FC Augsburg that as of this writing. Midfielder Hwang Hee-Chan plays for Hamburger SV. They also have two second division players in Lee Jae-Sung (Holstein Kiel) and Lee Chung-Yong (VfL Bochum). And they have seven more players in top flights divisions outside their native Korea. 

Korea has a global superstar in Son Heung-Min, and they know they have a good team and are riding some good vibes heading into the Asian Cup. 

This is a go-for-broke campaign for China. They have boldly announced that winning the FIFA World Cup is in their grand plan, and it seems they fan to fast track the process when they pulled out their youthful players from their domestic league throwing it in turmoil. 

Yet, it is an experienced and veteran team that manager Marcello Lippi brings to the Asian Cup. 

China qualified with a 5-2-1 record behind Group B winner Qatar (7-0-1). In the process, they inflicted upon Qatar their lone loss, 2-nil. They can also draw on their 1-nil win over South Korea in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.

The story of this Chinese team has been maddening for their fans. They picked up a huge win, but they follow it up with a befuddling loss or draw such as the recent scoreless affair with India. 

Lippi, who managed Italy to the 2006 World Cup and is the only coach to have won the UEFA Champions League and AFC Champions Cup, primarily sets his team up in a 4-4-2 formation. They deviate from time to time – depending on who they play – to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3.

You can infer that Lippi, true to Italian football, plays a pragmatic game. And in Yu Yang and Zhang Lingpeng, he has two center backs to repel attacks (with capable help from Xiaoting Feng). He can also count on double pivot Zheng Zhi to break up trouble and launch the counter attack.

But they like to run up their attacks from the wings rather than the center to take advantage of their high scoring winger, Wu Lei. 

This is the last hurrah for this batch of veterans who are dark horse contenders.

The Philippines isn’t the only country making its debut in Asian Cup competition. Kyrgyzstan is like a David in this Goliath-like tournament. They finished with a 4-2-2 record in the second round of the qualifications then 4-1-1 in the qualification tiebreakers. 

In the second round of the qualifiers, they were bullish, losing by one goal to Australia. They defeated and also drew matches Jordan and Tajikistan. They scored 10 goals and surrendered eight. 

In the tiebreakers, they scored 14 goals, but conceded eight, suggesting a leaky defense. 
And yet, such is the tenacious style that Russian head coach Aleksandr Krestinin has brought to this squad. 

They will need all that tenacity and more in a tough group. Kyrgyzstan is led by Anton Zemlianukhin who scored 10 goals while backed up by Vitalij Lux’s four goals (several other players added a goal each to the overall effort).