Philippines 1, Thailand 1: Musings on a memorable night for Jovin Bedic
BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The Azkals are a step closer to the semis after coming from behind to gut out a draw against the Thais in Panaad. We have yet to snap a 46-year-old streak of not winning against Thailand, but this draw almost feels like a win.
Here are my thoughts.
The inclusion of Alvaro Silva was a massive boost to the Azkals backline
The horror show of last Saturday, November 17, against Timor Leste, where we conceded two soft second-half goals, might be forgotten after Wednesday night.
Silva, the 34-year-old Filipino-Spaniard, was finally given the all-clear to play for the Philippines in the AFF Cup. He started alongside Carlie De Murga in central defense and was a quiet hero all evening.
Silva knows how to be at the right place at the right time, from his years playing in Spain, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. His interventions throught the match were mostly excellent anticipations of where the Thai players were going to be or what they were going to do.
Sven-Göran Eriksson, the Philippines coach, was generous in his praise of the centerback, saying in the post-match press conference that he is "a clever man" who "can play at any level, even in Europe."
Silva may not be our centerback of the future at his age, but he is heir to the throne occupied by the likes of Rob Gier, Aly Borromeo, and Juani Guirado. He is the tall, intelligent, experienced central defender who clogs up the opposing attack when needed.
One imagines that he will be key to our ambitions both in this competition and the AFC Asian Cup in January.
Jovin Bedic's goal is a storybook tale
Bedic, the 28-year-old Kaya striker from Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo, got his first cap late in a friendly draw against Malaysia in Cebu way back in 2014.
This year he finally got significant Azkals action in the Bangabandhu Cup in Bangladesh, albeit with a national team squad bereft of most of its current stars. In Bangladesh, Bedic won and scored a penalty and was involved in the only goal in a win against the hosts.
Bedic was one of the few players from the Bangabandhu roster who made the 23 for AFF Suzuki Cup lineup too.
All those years riding the pine for the Philippines showed he really has the patience of Job. On Wednesday night the patience paid off, as he got the tap on the shoulder late in the game down a goal. Bedic did not disappoint, converting some neat interplay with John Patrick Strauss for his first AFF Suzuki Cup goal.
The Kaya Iloilo striker has just completed a stellar season for his club, with a Cup-final winning goal. Now he has made a mark in the national team. Just like his townmate Chieffy Caligdong in 2011, he has now scored memorably in Panaad Stadium, adding to the ground's lore.
Let's see if Eriksson entrusts him with a start on Sunday against Indonesia.
The conditions played their part in the result, but not what we expected
Truth be told, I was welcoming the inclement weather for this match. I thought that a soft pitch might help blunt the visitor's speed advantage.
That didn't happen, as the Thai goal was largely a product of pace on the flanks and in the center of the park. This is a really fast team, and these days, speed wins a lot of football games.
Instead, the rain caused Bedic's shot to squirrel through the grasp of Thai keeper Chatchai Budprom, who probably needs a new pair of wet-weather goalie gloves.
This was a razor-sharp Philippines performance that gives us hope
"Has the team finally been learning your system, hence the better play?" I asked Eriksson in the postgame press conference.
"No, it is because they are good football players," was the Swede's reply.
Eriksson then proceeded to laud his top assistant, Scott Cooper, for handling the side before he came onboard.
The staff seems to have found a good formula here, with a settled defense and quality on the flanks. Stephan Schrock was his usual troublesome self. The first half was superb, as they took the game to the Thais with numerous chances. But the fact remains that....
We are missing a true center forward
Phil Younghusband is a withdrawn, or deep-lying striker, nearer the center of the pitch. He is not that strong in the air, especially since he takes a lot of corners. Our other forward, Patrick Reichelt, gave it all but could not score like he did against Singapore.
Yes, we are really missing Javi Patino, the kind of no-nonsense goalscorer who can ghost in where defenders least expect him to and smuggle that ball past the line with both the feet and the head.
This is one of the reasons why we have only scored 5 goals in 3 matches. That might seem to be a decent clip but we trail in the goal difference race with only 3 strikes against Timor Leste, and that could prove to be our downfall.
We need to find a tall, confident, versatile center forward who can reliably get the job done. One hopes that among a disapora of 10 million Filipinos, there is one out there like Javi Patino, but not encumbered by contract issues.
The upcoming game with Indonesia is a tricky one
The Indonesians are out of the running for the semis, with 3 points from 3 games. We are tied on points with top team Thailand, but have an inferior goal difference. Singapore, who beat Timor Leste 6-1 on Wednesday, improved to 6 points.
If we lose to Indonesia on Sunday and Singapore narrowly beats Thailand, we lose out to the Thais on goal difference. If we lose to Indonesia and Thailand and Singapore draw then we are also out of the semis on goal difference to the Lions.
However, a draw, no matter what happens in the other match, sees us through, according to my calculations.
Indonesia is playing at home in the Gelora Bung Karno, which can accommodate 88,000 rabid Garuda fans. But how many will show up for a non-bearing game? Or will Indonesia field a second- string team? Will they give it their all since they have a lot to prove, or will they just mail it in and coast?
Perhaps the Indonesians really want to finish strong and play the role of spoiler.
It all remains to be seen, and we hope Pinoy fans can tune in.
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH. – Rappler.com