Global 2, Tampines Rovers 0: The Filipinos march on
Global pulled off a win despite so many obstacles. In the press conference after the game, Misagh Bahadoran, fresh from his one-goal, one-assist Man Of The Match performance, spoke of all the difficulties his team endured during their preparations (or lack thereof).
"We had a lot of problems, some I cannot even tell you about," the striker said with remarkable candor.
Global had not played as a team since wrapping up the UFL League late last year. They were in flux with their lineup. They were on their fourth coach in less than 6 months with Toshiaki Imai only having 4 training sessions with the boys. There was little time for cohesion.
Bahadoran also shared in the press conference that the starting 11 was changed at the last minute for undisclosed reasons. There has been a history of player eligibility snafus with Global in international competitions in the past that left them shorthanded for AFC Cup games. Perhaps it happened again. Of the several new foreigners who trained with them last Thursday, only Shu Sasaki and Ahamd Azzawi made the matchday 18.
Global never had any tuneup matches coming into the game, but Tampines had a preseason camp in Malaysia, just two weeks ago, that included matches with second-tier outfit Terengganu and top-tier side T-Team.
And yet Global gutted out a victory. Azzawi received a pass from Bahadoran in the first half, juked around some defenders then powered past Izwan Mahbud. In the second half Azzawi returned the favor, setting up Bahadoran after darting down the left side. Bahadoran's ensuing shot came in off a deflection.
The good teams know that results matter and excuses don't pay the bills.
The Japanese connection. Imai is the former head coach of Mongolia and Chinese Taipei. (He is not to be confused with Masataka Imai, the former Philippine head coach.) No doubt the other Japanese players made his first game with the Filipino club more comfortable.
Hikaru Minegishi, the Filipino-Japanese player who made his Azkals debut in the Suzuki Cup, was joined with fresh signing Shu Sasaki, who is from Japan but had been playing in the second tier in Australia for the last two seasons. Sasaki nearly opened his Global account with 10 minutes left, but his fierce volley just flew over the bar.
Ahamd Azzawi may be from Iraq, but Imai revealed that he finished his high school in Japan and speaks the language fluently. The coach said the Japanese-bred players were able to communicate and create combinations.
Japan has a mature footballing culture and more of the products are trickling into our football. Yoshiharu Koizumi, who will continue his UAAP career in a few weeks with DLSU, is a smart, technically sound deep-lying playmaker who could make a difference in the SEA Games later this year. Another Filipino-Japanese is Allen Angeles, who starred for JP Voltes last season. Let's hope he is around this year. Other youngsters raised in the Land of the Rising Sun are Marvin Bricenio of UST and Benilde's Eddie Velizano.
Age is just a number, but it's a big number. The Tampines Rovers looked flat and uninspired for much of the contest, especially in the midfield. A look at their lineup could offer a clue.
The Stags grabbed national team veteran Daniel Bennett for a nineteenth S-League season. Bennett turned 39 two weeks ago. Mustafic Fahrudin is another graybeard at 35. Defender Jufri Taha is 31 and got cautioned late.
In contrast Global were a youthful side with the exception of returnee Paul Mulders, who was a surprise starter at centerback beside Amani Aguinaldo. Mulder turned 36 last January 16 and seems miscast in the center of defense. He made several frightful forays forward with ball, although his ball skills are still marvelous. In the second half he made a bad square pass that nearly resulted in a goal for the visitors. Soon after, Mulders was yanked in favor of OJ Clarino. It was not a like-for-like, since Dennis Villanueva dropped back into central defense.
More than ever football is becoming a young man's game.
This game and this campaign matters. The Philippine club will continue their qualifying odyssey next Tuesday, January 31, with an away match against the Brisbane Roar, who currently sit fourth in the A-League, the Australian top-tier. Should they beat the Aussies, then Global meets Shanghai Shenhua of the Chinese Super League. A win there and they are in the group stage of the AFC Champions League. A loss at any point and Global drop back to the second-tier AFC Cup.
Bahadoran said after the match that this was one of the biggest matches in Filipino club football history and he isn't too far off. Although it's a win against what is in reality another AFC Cup-caliber team, it is something to be proud of.
The victory hopefully sends a big message that Filipino football clubs are getting better and better. Fans need to hear that message, as well as sponsors. The win only bodes well for the upcoming Philippines Football League (PFL).
TV coverage is not something to take for granted. The game wasn't aired on local or international TV. There was no live streaming. Football fans might bellyache, but this is reality. Local club football has yet to make a big splash in the Filipino consciousness.
In a way I'm glad that it wasn't aired because it jolts the fans who have been spoiled by TV coverage of Azkals, league play, and the UAAP. These are all positive recent developments, but we must not have a sense of entitlement about them. They can all vanish if we don't keep up the momentum. Perhaps ordinary fans really have to do better to help spur interest in the sport, especially at club level. With the PFL coming, this will be doubly important.
The Brisbane Roar vs Global game will be on Tuesday, January 31. There is no listing of it on the Fox Sports Asia TV guide. Let's hope for a live stream.
I hope some videos of Bahadoran's and Azzawi's goals also come up on YouTube. Meanwhile, we must be content with this video of Pat Deyto's penalty save against Tampines' Khairul Amri. It proved to be a fine exclamation point to a special evening for Filipino club football. A first-ever win in the AFC Champions League.
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.