On Global FC's AFC Cup win and the World Cup Draw
On Wednesday night Global became the first Philippine team to win a match in the AFC Cup when they routed an error-prone Yadanarbon 4-1. It was a fitting coming-out party for the gleaming Philippine Sports Stadium, which may host World Cup qualifiers come June. Here are my musings on both the game and the venue.
Global's stunning turnaround in the AFC Cup is almost complete after a fine evening on home soil. For sure many pundits wrote off the Filipino side after a catastrophic 6-1 beatdown at home against South China in February. Since then Global have stolen a vital 0-0 draw at Pahang, gone down fighting 2-0 at Yadanarbon, then this masterful result.
Incredibly, Global is now in third place and only trail Pahang on goal difference after the Malaysians were drubbed 3-1 by South China. Progression to the round of 16, once thought to be a pipe dream, is now a realistic goal.
And it all happened with a gutsy, mature performance from a Global team that finally had most of its cogs in place.
There were key contributions from so many players. Mark Hartmann had not only two goals but also threatened with a bunch of attempts. Patrick Deyto palmed away a noxious effort from Djeje Maximin Djawa in the second half. Daisuke Sato was pretty much mistake-free as was Jerry Barbaso. Renato Gonzalez scored a sweet free-kick goal and Paolo Bugas, coming on for an ineffective Paolo Salenga, reminded us of his promise with a super assist on Misagh Bahadoran's goal. Bugas also made another pass to Mark Hartmann that was booted straight to the keeper.
This was a gut-check game for Global and they passed with flying colors. But as much as they won the game...
...Yadanarbon also lost it with startlingly unintelligent football. Firstly, they seemed to have been given a scouting report that read “Global defense is slow, beat them with long north-south balls.” No dice, as Amani Aguinaldo and Masaki Yanagawa held firm. The tactic was crude and its failure was deserved.
Then the visitors, time and time and again unloaded the contents of their collective rifles into their collective toes all night.
First the bizarre handball on the free kick wall by Yan Paing. Strange for such an experienced player. Then another boner soon after when keeper Thiha Sithu decided to handle a poor back pass. Hartmann slots home the ensuing indirect free kick.
Tin Win Aung got a yellow for petulantly tossing the ball backwards twice after Global were granted a free kick then after harshly clattering Raul Martinez, the Myanmar international was presented with his second yellow and a red.
Zaw Lin Tun's straight red for a forearm on Aguinaldo was harsh. It should have been a yellow at most, but it was indeed a foul in the box that warranted a spot kick. You be the judge, watch the match highlights and the play here.
Yadanarbon were missing defender Okpechi Happiness allegedly because of a visa issue. But their mindless errors put them behind the 8-ball. Plus, to make matters worse...
The referees did them few favors. The red card on Zaw Lin Tun wasn't the only head scratcher from main referee Nivon Robesh Gamini from Sri Lanka. The call that resulted in Gonzalez’s free kick goal was utterly bogus. The ref appeared to assert that Thiha Sithu handled the ball outside his area. Replays showed Sithu had his foot on the line but the ball was well in the box. Definitely a needless call in my book at best.
We complain about substandard refereeing in the Philippines but on Wednesday we were reminded that it really exists everywhere.
How was the experience of taking in a game at the new stadium? Mostly good. Firstly, it's great to have a new stadium with a real grass pitch. Plastic pitch technology is getting better all the time, but nothing beats the “give” and feel of the real thing. Yes, we should have some artificial pitches for facilities that have lots of games, but I'm happy we have one good grass one left.
The grass did look a wee bit high though, as evidenced by the players' boots and and the balls appearing to sink a bit.
The lighting in the stadium was also excellent, and my carpool mates that day, Anna Munar, her daughter Mariel, and their friend Jency appreciated the excellent security in and around the ground. The food and drinks at the concessionaire were also surprisingly affordable, they said.
The lights in the ceiling that changed color were also a nice touch.
My fellow sportswriters said the stadium reminded them of Hanoi's My Dinh stadium, only smaller.
But as good as the stadium is, one fact remains: it really is so very far.
We took the Mindanao Avenue exit to the NLEX, which was convenient and hassle-free, but I passed Balintawak on the way back. It was P56 for the toll on both ways. It took me just under an hour to get back home to Mandaluyong, and that's already with light to moderate traffic on NLEX and EDSA.
Getting to the PSS from NLEX is a piece of cake; the Ciudad de Victoria complex where the PSS and Philippine Arena are situated has its own exit. But getting out requires a short drive up north to the town of Santa Maria, where you make two left turns, (there were no directional signs), and slog through the town's main avenue, which is mostly a two-lane road, to the NLEX. It wasn't so bad on Wednesday night, but after an Azkals game with thousands of vehicles making a beeline to the highway, things could get jammed very easily.
(One thing that must be noted: there is a neat-looking old-school perya right near the exit, if you like that sort of thing. Might be a decent stopover after a game, although I suspect it might only be there for the summer.)
Would I prefer the PSS over the dreary but more centrally-located Rizal Memorial? Sadly, for all the PSS' charms, the answer is no. It's just too far out of the way, unless you live in Quezon City. The venue is a non-starter for fans who must commute to games, and even for those with cars, it's a chore to get there.
If the Azkals are to have games there, they should provide free or very cheap bus rides and more affordable tickets to make up for the distance and inconvenience. Free parking would also be nice. I paid P45 for parking on Wednesday.
The SLEX-NLEX connector road will certainly help matters, but that isn't due until 2017.
I still yearn for an artificial pitch in UMAK plus more seating. I think that stadium has the most potential of any of our venues to be a magnet for football fans.
Our World Cup draw sucked, but does it matter? Make no mistake about it: last Tuesday's draw for the 2018 Russia World Cup was as ghastly as it gets.
Uzbekistan has a great program, Bahrain is tough, Yemen will be no pushover, and Korea DPR really doesn't belong in Pot 4, a group of nations that are theoretically weaker than the Philippines.
FIFA's rankings are a decent barometer of team form but are certainly not infallible. That's why I don't pay too much mind when our rankings rise or fall.
The Philippines got a good draw in the 2014 Challenge Cup, avoiding host Maldives in the group, and in the Suzuki Cup we also dodged Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia in the group stage, instead getting paired with a minnow in Laos and a weakened Indonesia. I guess it was time for us to really get soaked at a draw.
But it doesn't matter too much for me. Football shouldn't be about demanding wins all the time. That's an unrealistic goal that leads us on a road to heartbreak.
What matters is we are joining that great party called World Cup qualifying, and for eight days between June and March we get to be united as one nation supporting a team that represents all of us and gives us hope. Win or lose, and no matter who we face, we should enjoy the ride. - Rappler.com
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFan.