Thoughts on Azkals' tough semis loss to Vietnam in Suzuki Cup
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals now fight for their lives after a 1-2 loss to Vietnam in the 2018 ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup semifinals at the Pana-ad Park and Stadium in Bacolod on Sunday, December 2.
With Vietnam leading the home-and-away series, the Azkals must pull through in the second leg and score at least a two-goal win to advance to their first Suzuki Cup finals.
We suffered a one-goal loss, but we should be thankful
I don't know what the Vietnamese word for "idiot" is, but it's likely that Nguyen Cong Phuong, the last Viet sub, heard it in the visiting dressing room after the game.
With mere minutes left and up 2-1, the so-called "Vietnamese Messi" did well to take the ball and saschay around the exhausted Filipino defense. He had no one else but Azkals keeper Michael Falkesgaard to beat, but he also had a teammate yards to his right with the goal at his mercy.
Cong Phuong should have poked past the keeper, or he could have offloaded to his mate for the simplest of finishes. Instead he duck-hooked bizarrely wide of the far stick.
His immaturity – or perhaps lack of composure – coupled with a pair of Falkesgaard saves late, are what the Philippines' Suzuki Cup hopes are hanging on.
If Vietnam scores there, it's 3-1. The visitors have a two goal lead and three juicy away goals. Panaad would have been as quiet as a church save for the cheers of the visiting fans and the rustling of leaves in the eucalyptus trees surrounding the stadium. The Azkals would need to score a minimum of 3 goals in Hanoi to stand any chance of winning this two-legged series.
But instead we only fall 2-1. There is still hope. Not a great deal of it, but nonetheless, it's there.
We dodged a bullet late and that has left us with a lifeline. I choose to see this glass half-full.
Two other points: the Azkals have made history. Patrick Reichelt's goal is not only the very first the Philippines has ever scored in 4 semifinal appearances, but it is also the only goal anyone has scored against Vietnam in this year's competition.
Let's not forget the positives.
Vietnam schooled us
The visitors stuck with a 3-5-2 scheme that clogged the middle of the park with Nguyen Quang Hai, Do Hung Dung, and Pham Duc Huy in and around the spine. Wingbacks Nguyen Trong Hoang and Doan Van Hau shuttled back and forth from defense to the midfield to pitch in.
Our midfield couldn't breathe. Every time we grabbed even the tiniest nibble of the ball, we were set upon by red shirts.
Vietnam is coached by Korean coach Park Hang Seo, who led many of these players when they reached the AFC U23 championship final earlier this year. Korean football has been traditionally about high tempo pressing and tireless work rate. Chef Park had essentially cooked up a bowl of Pho spiked with some mean kimchi, and the Pinoys struggled to swallow it.
Manny Ott, subbed off with a knock at the half, was largely a non-factor. Stephan Schrock nearly conjured up an assist from nothing with that looper to Reichelt late, but he was effectively neutralized for much of the contest.
This team is young, fast, fit, and self-assured. Many have also been playing together since soon after puberty in youth national teams. Their coach knows them intimately. Plus, this Vietnamese team has tasted Asian glory and is hungry for more success. This is a team that could be a unit for two or more Suzukis. Nguyen Quang Hai is just 21, Duc Huy and Cong Phuong only 23.
Thailand staggered through a 0-0 draw on Saturday at Malaysia. Compared to it, this Vietnam team should be favorites to win it all.
Considering how tough this team is, again, the 2-1 deficit looks pretty good. But moving forward, the Philippines needs a youth movement sooner than later.
The Azkals have never looked more thuggish, and you can't blame them
The Azkals put some sturdy hits out there all game long. Alvaro Silva's elbow/forearm made the acquaintance of Nguyen Anh Duc's sternum in a major way in the first half. The center back should consider himself lucky his name was not taken down.
Then there was Jovin Bedic hooking an ankle of a Vietnamese (no card) and Steuble going full-bore two-footed on another for his yellow. By the time the night was done, Schrock and Kevin Ingreso had also been shown rectangles for some bruising play.
Whether it was due to frustration or by design, the roughousing had some purpose. This is what you do when a faster, technically sound team is put in front of you: you give them a few love taps to intimidate them and throw them off their rhythm.
Vietnam's reaction: nothing. Just carry on playing your game. This is an experienced squad who could see this coming.
Football is a contact sport, and as long as you don't get sent off or make truly crazy, dangerous fouls, then "tactical fouling" is a legitimate strategy.
Adam Tull was sent in at right back and was just fine. Jovin Bedic sprung the goal with yet another one-touch, perfectly weighted ball to a streaking Phil Younghusband, who delivered the assist to Reichelt. A look at Bedic's pass will reveal that it is a cultured, outside-of-the boot swat.
Falkesgaard, after being out of position on the first goal, made amends with big stops late.
We have 3 heroes tonight, and more are needed on Thursday.
Patrick Reichelt may be growing into the role of outspoken leader
After the game, Reichelt expressed disappointment at the result and said that the "team's attitude was missing today."
Those are strong words, and we do not know how the dressing room will receive them.
But when you have come back from a catastrophic ACL tear to score twice in a Suzuki Cup, breaking a four-year international scoring drought, then in my book you have a right to say what you want.
The absence of Javi Patiño left some size 14 shoes to fill in the Azkals attack, and Reichelt has done more than his share to stick his toes into them.
Reichelt is 30. At his age, and with his accomplishments, he is a candidate for elder statesman on the team. Let's see if his words help light a fire under this squad going into Thursday.
May tulog ang Vietnam
That phrase is untranslatable, that's why it is written in Tagalog. Vietnam is mortal and we just might nick a result on Thursday.
As I wrote previously, the Indochinese team has a history of buckling to the pressure in My Dinh stadium during Suzuki Cups. (READ: Azkals get the job done)
We beat the Vietnamese in Hanoi in 2010. They crumbled there against Malaysia 4 years later and in 2016, laid a gigantic egg against Indonesia in front of 40,000 of their fans.
For me, the key is to steal an early goal. That puts us a goal away from the finals. It should send the Vietnamese's stomachs churning and signal the ghosts of My Dinh to make their way out of the woodwork and into the heads of the players.
Sometimes the weight of history can be a yoke on a team, forcing it to underperform. Vietnam must avoid this fate.
Meanwhile the Philippines, so long an underdog, must embrace the role once again.
Vietnam vs Philippines
8:30 pm Philippine time
Thursday, December 6
AFF Suzuki Cup Semifinals Leg 2
My Dinh Stadium, Hanoi, Vietnam
Telecast details TBA
Livestream at espn5.com
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH. – Rappler.com