Another sleepless night for Azkals fans
MANILA, Philippines - It was another a sleepless night for soccer fans after failing to enter the AFF Suzuki Cup final for the third time. The Azkals stepped into the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok looking a bit listless. Was it due to a goalless draw in Manila last Saturday, which boosted their chances to enter the finals? Or was it the effect of the the crowd's cheering for the War Elephants?
Thailand, taking a leaf from the early hammering Vietnam gave the Philippines in the quarterfinals, started strongly. They put pressure on the wings and on the middle by sending almost everybody on the attack and using slick passing to stretch the Filipinos' defense.
The first goal, one can argue, was due to luck. But two Thais sandwiched Daisuke Sato, who tried to head out the cross but ended up clearing it a bit lower. Chanathip Songkrason collared the loose ball and sent the Thais ahead on the sixth minute.
The Thais stopped the Filipinos from regaining their bearings as they pressed the attackers whenever they lost possession. It was slick and well executed, powered by their short, sharp passing that greatly troubled the Philippines. When the Thais regained possession, their deft passing often found a Thai a step ahead of one two Filipinos as Perapat and Chappuis experienced on the 39th and 44th minute.
First-half possession stats told the story: 56 percent for Thailand, 44 percent for the Philippines
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley changed his second half lineup in an effort to equalize and hand the advantage over to the Philippines. Martin Steuble replaced Sato, Patrick Reichelt became the center forward. It revitalized the Philippines but the Thais, banking on their tireless midfielders Chappuis and Songkrasin, cranked up the pace and put the Azkals on the defensive.
Amani Aguinaldo defended well and despite what appeared to be a protective neck gear worn by Patrick Deyto, the Global FC goalie tried his best but the Thais' speed and ball control were too much for the Philippine backline. Thailand, despite having a a small edge in second-half possession (51 percent to 49 percent) was able to capitalize on their few attacking chances.
Kroekrit Thawikan was a pest on the left wing. His two goals came from his quick runs that stretched the backline. He gave Thailand one foot in the finals by scoring on the 57th. The Philippines was slowly reduced to defending and Kroekit ended the Philippines' hopes with a beautiful goal after another lightning run on the left, a swivel to his right allowed him to find the net.
Dooley has done a lot for the Azkals since taking over last March. He overhauled the team and led the Azkals to the finals of the Peace Cup, losing to the taller, experienced Palestine side. He cut down relying on the long ball used by Philippine teams of old. Midfield control has become the emphasis of their strategy.
But Thailand and Vietnam belong to the soccer elite in Southeast Asia. The Philippines is a basketball country which is rediscovering soccer; Thailand and company have deep soccer cultures. The matches in these countries' national leagues are tough and fast-paced. They have more players to draw from as Thailand showed.
The Philippines will only have a national league by 2016 which would fill in the need for more matches to be played in the senior level so our players can be competitive.
There is only so much Dooley or his men can achieve. One can quibble about changes in the lineup, or by watching dangerous players or by just playing defensively, which would not mean improvement, or even argue that a few Azkals' key players, like Phil Younghusband are in their early 30s.
Give Dooley more time and get the national league going and perhaps by the 2016 Suzuki Cup, which the Philippines is planning to host. Then that's the time to hand a verdict. - Rappler.com