Opinion: Why Singapore was the better team vs the Azkals

Wacky Torres
Singapore showed how how footballing discipline and pragmatism can get results and the coach's crucial role in instilling these principles

MANILA, Philippines – As soon as the first whistle blew, Singapore looked the part of a finalist.

Most people would say the opening half of the game was a rather cagey affair with neither team looking too sharp in the final third. Only separated at halftime by Khairul Amri’s 19th minute strike, it’s understandable to think that – but it just doesn’t paint the big picture.

(Read: Azkals bow out of the Suzuki Cup finals)

A football match isn’t won simply through an obedient adherence to a manager’s tactics or individual moments of brilliance. As much as the physical and tactical aspects of the game are important, the psychological condition, the fortitude of players are just as indispensable.

Case in point: The Leeds United side of the 60’s, under the tutelage of Don Revie, was a fine group of players, but it wasn’t only their superior technical abilities that took them to the top of the Football League and immortalized them in British football lore.

They possessed the bespoke grit, an inexplicable desire to win, that translated itself on the pitch through bone-crunching tackles, challenges on every ball, and relentless marking that took the life out of their opponents.

Not only were they better than you on the ball, they could take it right off you and kill your confidence in the process. If one considers the mental state of the players as too abstract a criteria for judgment, just ask any of the ol’ teams that took on Leeds in their glory days.

The Red Lions weren’t exactly Leeds 2.0 when they hosted the Azkals on Wednesday, December 12, but they did seize higher ground early on before even going one-nil up. They broke the Philippines with confrontative – unapologetic, even – physical play that destroyed any chance for the Azkals to get into any sort of early rhythm.

It’s hard to forget the image of James Younghusband approaching the referee, demanding intervention, when Phil was felled for the 4th time by another piece of strategic bullying.

The Azkals weren’t willing to match Singapore in this respect, and so dictated the rest of the game. They couldn’t cope and they didn’t want to.

More disciplined, strategic

Initiative was given to Singapore, led by a knowledgable and experienced pragmatist in Radojko Avramovic who has been continually praised for getting results despite a small pool of talent and resources.

The Philippines was in a fragile mental state for the entire half. The lapse that led to the goal was its inevitable product.

It seemed rather unlikely the Azkals would wrest control away from the Red Lions who knew what to do, and knew themselves well to compensate for their limitations.

The Azkals, in stark contrast, had a side brimming with ability and potential but was bogged down again by their constant on-pitch identity crisis.

The second-half was a lesson in soaking up the pressure, a gutsy move by Singapore and one they executed to near-perfection. It’s difficult to believe a side this disciplined and tactically astute was only formed a year ago. They didn’t have to defend their lead valiantly because they were comfortable keeping the ball out from deep.

Also, the Azkals were too predictable, unable to stretch the Lions much at all. The best the Azkals could manage was a half-chance from just outside the box, a left-footed snapshot by Phil Younghusband that was never going to beat the keeper following a deflected pass from Angel Guirado.

In the dying minutes, Avramovic was absolutely livid when his players weren’t killing time, keeping safe possession, and putting the ball in the corners.

They did so afterwards, effectively negating the Azkals’ late siege, showing how footballing discipline and pragmatism can get results and the coach’s crucial role in instilling these principles. – Rappler.com

Wacky Torres is a rebel without a life. He’s also a footy nut but he’s rubbish at it. So he writes about it instead.