Reflections on a gritty, gutsy Azkals win

Bob Guerrero
It's a dream start for the Philippines in the AFF Suzuki Cup, thanks to Patrick Reichelt

 

 

IMPRESSIVE. Phil Younghusband and the Philippine Azkals did the country proud. Photo from AFF Suzuki Cup

 

MANILA, Philippines – The Azkals shook off the challenge of a pretty darn good Singapore team.

I lived in Singapore as a teenager in the mid-’80s. My stay in the city-state coincided with the zenith of Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad’s football career. At that time he was a star striker for Groningen in the Eredivisie, the top tier of Dutch football.

Fandi’s exploits filled the back page of the Straits Times, Singapore’s English-language daily. Those were the memories of my late childhood.

Flash forward to 2018 and Fandi Ahmad is once again invading my consciousness. He is the interim coach of the Lions, and, in Bob Bradley fashion, fielded his sons Irfan Fandi and Ikhsan Fandi on Tuesday night, November 13. Bradley was the former USA national team coach who had his kid Michael as one of his players.

The team Fandi put forth was disciplined, organized, and well-prepared. In other words, this Singapore side does football the way Singapore does everything in general. 

They were also remarkably fit, considering they played Indonesia just last Friday. A report I read online said the team wore compression sleeves while making the two-legged journey to Bacolod in order to recover faster. 

The Singapore side pressed with abandon throughout the game and were excellent in transition. There was plenty of height as well in the team, and, unlike most Singaporeans, were quite impolite at times, given to dishing out all sorts of heavy challenges.

But Singapore’s biggest difficulty was the inability of coach Fandi to transform into his 21-year-old self and trot on to the pitch as an impact sub. In attack they were wanting, with few moments that troubled Neil Etheridge.

But no doubt this Singapore team can give the other sides in the group fits. We should be proud that we beat them. (READ: Azkals score first win over Singapore in Suzuki Cup)

 

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Patrick Reichelt may go down as one of the Philippines’ most underrated players 

The man they call “Kiki” is now 30 years old. This is his first Azkals goal in 4 years, and it comes after he missed the last edition of the Suzuki with an ACL tear. 

Reichelt is up there with Carlie De Murga and Simone Rota in the Azkals Comeback Kids Hall of Fame. 

He still has the pace to trouble wide defenders, and his goalscoring stats are impressive: this is his eighth in an Azkals shirt.

His 78th minute goal involved not just his skill. There was luck involved too, as the ball clanged off both Younghusbands and off his shoulder into a perfect position for a shot.

There was one last element that made the strike possible: some iffy defending on the play by Irfan Fandi. The 21-year-old son of the coach goes in front of Reichelt and seems to give him his right side, a gift that the Fil-German gladly accepts. Looking at the replay, it’s as if Irfan thought Reichelt was left-footed. Was it because Reichelt began the game at left wing? We may never know. 

It was one lapse of focus, one mental error that cost Singapore the game.

 

Sven-Göran Eriksson’s bold choice at centerback paid off 

Alvaro Silva was left off the squad of 23. This came as a surprise to me, since the 34-year-old Filipino-Spaniard started at CB in the scrimmage versus Mongolia. Is it an injury? Some documentation or eligibility issue? I have no info at this point.

What is clear is that the Philippines were without an experienced pure centerback for the tournament, unless you count Amani Aguinaldo.

Huge call by the Swede to station Paul Mulders at centerback alongside De Murga. It worked out fine. Eriksson must have bet that his general football IQ would overshadow his relative inexperience at the position, and the result was a clean sheet. 

There may be more shuffling at the back. Luke Woodland got hurt, (again), forcing an earlier entry for Daisuke Sato. Let’s see how this plays out.

 

The Javi Patiño fiasco highlights the need for us to strengthen our local league 

First he was in the roster. Then we weren’t sure. Then maybe for the first two games. Then days after he was seen training with the Azkals, Javi Patiño backs out of the tournament with a calf issue. 

Speculation was rife on social media about the nature of the injury. Was it real? Was he pressured by his wealthy Thai club to fake a knock and rule himself out of the Suzuki Cup? Why was he not even allowed to play in the first two games, all within FIFA windows? Why were other Buriram players permitted to play for Thailand but not him?

We could go on and on. But what this tells me is that the Philippines, to be competitive internationally, should ideally rely on a strong, and viable local league for the bulk of its national team. That is mostly true now, but the more we can get players based in the Philippines, the less we need to put up with this sort of issue. 

There is only so much hair-pulling and hand wringing we can do about Buriram and Patiño. What the powers-that-be in Philippine football can do is make the proper moves to rejuvenate the Philippine club football scene. Hopefully we can work towards having all of our Azkals based here. That’s an ambitious goal, but we need to work towards it.

 

Questions remain 

Is the team going to be fit enough? Manny Ott and Mulders, both Ceres players who have not played club matches since September, cramped up in the end. With a game coming up Saturday, can they and the other Ceres players in the lineup recover well? 

Why did a midfield so stacked with quality at time seem so disjointed? No doubt the lack of time to prepare did us no favors.

Will Timor Leste be as easy to beat as we think? They lost to Indonesia 3-1 but not before taking the lead. 

Will the stands fill up for the home game against Thailand on November 21? There were plenty of empty seats in the bleachers. One wonders if the bleacher pricing of P100 was too steep for a provincial city. I think it might be. Getting people to watch the Azkals on a weeknight in a venue quite far from the city center is a bit of an ask. I think P50 is the right price for the bleacher ticket.

At any rate, let’s hope this match helps spike interest in the next home game, so we can have a bigger and noisier crowd. 

The campaign is off to a good start. History beckons for the Philippine Azkals, but there is much work to be done. 

Next game:

PHILIPPINES vs TIMOR LESTE

AFF Suzuki Cup 2018

8 pm Saturday, November 17

LIVE on AksyonTV and espn5.com

– Rappler.com