Azkals get the job done

Bob Guerrero
Azkals get the job done
A goalless draw in Jakarta propels the Philippines to the Suzuki Cup semis. Here's what I think looking back and forward.

MANILA, Philippines – Football isn’t always beautiful, and Pinoy fans have to appreciate that.

On Sunday, November 25, goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard tweeted that we should not expect technical football because of the subpar quality of the pitch in Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta, Indonesia.

True enough, the game was scrappy and at times dreary. As always, the action picked up in the second half, with some good chances.

Two things here.

Filipinos have to get beyond just goals and start to enjoy a game in its entirety. This was a tense and exciting 0-0 draw. There was a lot to talk about and discuss all throughout the contest. The movement, the tactics, the defensive actions. That’s how the world watches football, and Filipinos should slowly learn it.

Tough when our sports fans are weaned on high scoring games like basketball and volleyball, but slowly but surely we will get there.

Second is that I suspect we will see more of this going forward. This team has a fantastic centerback pairing in Carlie De Murga and Alvaro Silva. They literally and figuratively speak the same language.

Although Daisuke Sato is set to return to Romania and miss the semifinals, Martin Steuble is very capable of replacing him at left back. 

Right now our strength is our defense. This is a team that, lacking the presence of Javi Patiño, is no high octane offensive squad. We were the only team in our group that could not score 4 or more goals against Timor Leste. We scored just two in the other 3 games.

We can win with grind-it-out, patient, attritional football – picking our spots and staying organized. We will need to against a razor-sharp Vietnam team. I see in this squad a bit of the Singapore team that stunned Thailand to lift the cup in 2012.

This team can go all the way, just don’t expect it to be always pretty.

Phil’s departure from the game prepares us for the future

Phil Younghusband exited in the first half with a head injury from an accidental clash of heads with an opposing player.

Phil is 31, and we have relied on him for a very long time. Perhaps it is only fitting that we can test ourselves without him. Curt Dizon came in as a sub, and neither he nor Jovin Bedic could create much. Bedic did produce one neat early pass in the second half. That is his trademark, and we will need more of that with the tempo likely to be very high in the semis.

Let’s cherish and enjoy Phil while we still can, but look to the future without him. Perhaps we have one or maybe two more Suzuki Cups with him. Thankfully, coach Sven Goran Eriksson said in the press conference that the knock is not serious and he should be good to go on Sunday.

Vietnam will be a very tough assignment

We now face Group B winner Vietnam in the semis. Earlier this year, Vietnam reached the final of the AFC U23 championship, losing to Uzbekistan in extra time.

Nguyen Quang Hai finished 2nd in the Golden Boot race with 5 strikes in that competition. The attacking mid already has two in this Suzuki Cup.

He is just 21 years old.

Attackers Nguyen Van Quyet and Nguyen Van Durc were in that team as overage players. They are in the squad now as the elder statesmen of the team. Van Quyet is the skipper.

Two of the Vietnamese back 3 – Tran Dinh Trong and Do Duy Manh – are veterans of the U23 team. They are both just 21.

Phan Van Durc, the striker, also has a U23 silver medal.

This is a young core with some tried and tested veterans. They have already tasted success in the greater Asian level. This team is no joke. Le Cong Vinh may no longer be in the squad but the quality keeps on coming for the Indochinese nation. They are obviously doing something right.

Check out the 3 goals they put past Cambodia. 

According to the AFF Suzuki Cup match center, Vietnam plays a 3-5-2 formation. That will flood the midfield with personnel and make life hard on our ball carriers. Wingbacks Nguyen Trong Hoang and Nguyen Phong Hong Duy should give our wide players lots of fits.

But there is some hope for the Philippines.

Vietnam is saddled with baggage from Suzuki Cups past. Its home ground, My Dinh stadium, might as well celebrate Halloween every day of the year. That is how many ghosts reside in that venue from past Suzukis. Will they finally be exorcised in 2018?

The Azkals beat them there famously in 2010. Four years later, Dollah Salleh’s Malaysia overturned a 1-2 first leg deficit to win 4-2 in the second leg in My Dinh, eliminating the home side.

There was more hurt two years later as Indonesia would win 2-2 in Hanoi in the second leg, taking a 4-3 aggregate victory into the finals. It was a bizarre contest that saw the Vietnam goalie get sent off and the substitute, a field player, playing midfielder-keeper the rest of the way while Indonesia defended.

Should Vietnam suffer yet another My Dinh Meltdown this time around or should it just burn the joint down rather than play another game there?

But history aside, Vietnam must feel this is its moment. Its pacey young attackers will provide a massive test for a central defense that has an average age of 32. Thankfully, we get the first dibs at home field in Panaad on Sunday.

Now it’s the time for the fans to step up and spread the word. The Azkals have a colossal match on Sunday night, and all eyes should be on them.


Philippines vs Vietnam

AFF Suzuki Cup Semifinal Leg 1

Panaad Stadium, Bacolod

Sunday, December 2

Kickoff TBA

Telecast details TBA


Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH. –

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