Azkals 3, Timor Leste 2: Breaking down a difficult win

Bob Guerrero
The Philippines is on maximum points after two AFF Suzuki Cup games, but there are big concerns going into the next match against Thailand


MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines picked up a precious second win in the AFF Championship on Saturday, November 17, defeating Timor Leste in Kuala Lumpur. But it wasn’t pretty, as two late concessions, after we took a 3-0 lead, made for unnecessary drama for Pinoy fans. Here are some observations on the match and suggestions for moving forward.

Paul Mulders is miscast at centerback

Paul Mulders is many things: an artful dribbler, a string-puller in midfield, a superb game-reader, and a decent finisher. What he isn’t, at the age of 37, is a centerback at this level.

In the Singapore game he slotted into central defense after Luke Woodland got an injury that took him out of the competition. He was solid then, but on Saturday night it went all wrong for the Fil-Dutchman in the second half. 

Mulders gave up a penalty, was rounded for the second goal by Joao Pedro, and was certainly beat on a late cross that the Timorese could not convert on. Yes, this defensively naive but plucky Timor Leste team was that close to Istanbulling us.

Sven-Göran Eriksson went for Mulders instead of going for a dedicated centerback in Amani Aguinaldo. It was a choice that he just barely got away with. Mulders looked bone-weary on Saturday in the second half, and really appeared to be a square peg in a round hole in the heart of the defense. 

I say that unless Aguinaldo is carrying some sort of knock, he should get the start on Wednesday against the War Elephants in Panaad. If Mulders plays on Wednesday, then it will be his third game in 9 days, and his aging legs might struggle against the speedy Thais.

But Aguinaldo has baggage against Thailand. In 2014, in the first leg of the semis against Thailand, he goaded a Thai player into getting sent off with 21 minutes to go in a 0-0 draw. Who was that player? Adisak Kraisorn, who terrorized Timor Leste with 6 goals in their opener last week and struck again versus Indonesia on Saturday as Thailand won 4-2.


Surely Kraisorn will be pumped to face his nemesis again. 

Are there other options for the Swedish coach? Yes. Last year Thomas Dooley brought in Sean Kane, a holding mid, to play centerback against Yemen in the AFC Asian Cup qualifying. It worked, as the Azkals gutted out a draw in Qatar. 

This year Adam Tull, a.k.a. Adam Reed, is in the squad, a similar kind of player. Might he step back in the formation to partner Carli De Murga? 

Or the answer might not even be in the squad of 23. Dennis Villanueva is one of 3 healthy players, (Jarvey Gayoso and Ace Villanueva are the others), who were not included in the 23 but are in Bacolod, training, and available for a call-up if necessary. Based on what we have seen, the Fil-Italian deserves a bib and a spot on the bench at least. He is also a converted midfielder, but he has played CB in the past.

To be fair to Mulders, the rest of the team was also in a fog for much of the game. I counted 3 poor giveaways in the second half including two schoolboy square passes that were easily picked off. James Younghusband squandered at least one gilt-edged chance. Falkesgaard had a decent Suzuki Cup debut with a terrific 1v1 save early. But he duck-hooked a goal kick. Curt Dizon slipped twice. Did he have the right cleats on?

But the biggest problem is in central defense, and that will be the key to success on Wednesday.


Our goals, while pretty, were the result of lousy defending

Phil Younghusband got his 52nd goal and it was a great finish. However the Timor Leste defenders decided that other players were worth more attention than Phil, and that is a bad idea. Phil had acres of space and enough time to read the paper before firing home. Those are luxuries usually not afforded at this level, and he did not disappoint.

Carlie De Murga’s header was good piece of work but again, the fruit of ragged organization in the Timor Leste backline.

The best goal was Martin Steuble’s glorious, outside-of-the box grass cutter. Keeping the ball down is a key skill of a quality finisher, and the Fil-Swiss showed us how it’s done.

Yes, we scored, but Timor Leste’s defense is the dregs of the tournament. Neither Thailand nor Indonesia will give us chances so easily.


Aksyon TV handled the overlap with Philippine Super Liga very well 

An hour before kickoff I was already tuned into Aksyon TV, and instantly became a massive Sta. Lucia volleyball fan after they took a two sets to nothing lead on Cocolife. I wanted the Realtors to take the 3rd set and end the PSL game so the coverage of the Azkals could start on time. 

Naturally, Cocolife battled back to win sets 3 and 4, forcing a deciding 5th set. That meant the volleyball finished 20 minutes after the football kickoff. 

Aksyon made the best of a bad situation by showing a picture-in-picture inset of the Azkals game while the volleyball finished. It was a creative solution that might not have pleased everyone, but was certainly better than nothing.

Eventually Aksyon did a big favor to football fans by switching to the Azkals feed as the main picture, with audio, and relegating the 5th set, which Cocolife won, to the smaller inset. No doubt there were some upset volleyball fans out there not best pleased with that decision. 

Some Pinoy football fans were not happy with the setup and voiced their ire on social media. But the truth is PSL is probably a good money-maker for Aksyon, and it runs 4 conferences a year. Their contract predates the agreement to air the biennial Suzuki Cup and might very well be much more valuable. Therefore the network cannot simply cut their broadcast just like that for other programming. 

Filipino football fans must humbly realize that PSL may very well have a bigger audience than football. A sense of entitlement will not help us catch up with other sports when it comes to broadcasting clout. We must continue to do the right thing and we’ll be in a better place in terms of broadcasting.


The players made a touching tribute to fallen football photographer Vhonne Servinda

After one of the goals on Saturday some of the players were flashing “V” signs with their fingers. It’s my understanding that it was their way of remembering football photographer Vhonne Servinda, who lost a long battle with cancer on Saturday morning.

It is common to speak of the departed in overly glowing terms, but Vhonne was the real deal. She carried herself with an astonishing cheerfulness and positivity despite her illness. I never saw her without a smile. She just loved taking pics of football and sharing them with players and fans.

Vhonne sold t-shirts to help fund her medical bills. I helped her out a bit once and she even took the time to give a token gift of gratitude to me. That’s just the kind of person she was. 

Days ago friends had an oxygen tank installed in Vhonne’s home to help her breathe. She was suffering from secondary pneumonia that may or may not have been connected to the big C. Vhonne had difficulty speaking and needed to communicate with a small whiteboard. On Saturday came the awful news that she had passed, and we would never see her behind a byline again.

Paalam, Vhonne. I hope you enjoyed that win, no matter how imperfect. Let’s hope the boys can give you another 3 points on Wednesday against another undefeated team, Thailand.



AFF Suzuki Cup 2018

7:30 pm Wednesday, November 21

Panaad Stadium, Bacolod

LIVE on ESPN 5 and


Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH. –


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