Azkals vs Yemen postgame thoughts: Misagh’s moment

Bob Guerrero
Azkals vs Yemen postgame thoughts: Misagh’s moment
The Philippines stay perfect in FIFA World Cup Qualifying with a handsome 2-0 win against Yemen in Doha. Here are musings on another watershed game for Philippine football.


Misagh Bahadoran has come of age. Bahadoran used to cut a frustrating figure for many Filipino football observes. There was always the dribbling prowess and the blinding pace, but also a predilection to hang on to the ball too long and make curious decisions in the heat of battle. 

“He has zero football IQ,” one prominent UFL footballer once told me on the quiet three years ago. 

You can toss all that out the window after two career-defining performances over the last week. The firmware upgrade is now complete, and Misagh 2.0 is bringing it for the national team. At 28 years of age, the Pampanga-born Iranian-Filipino is in the prime of his career. 

Even before his second-half goal, he had, for me, sealed the Man of the Match award by burning the Yemeni defensive left flank to a crisp with his speed and crossing. His goal, a left-footer off a neat pirouette as he handled a Javier Patiño delivery, was a very delicious dollop of icing on an already terrific fifty minutes of work.

The telling moment in his maturity game in the opening few minutes, when he latched on to the ball in near the Yemeni frame and dished to Iain Ramsay, whose first touch betrayed him. Perhaps the old Misagh would have tried to outfox his markers with individual dribbling. 

Bahadoran shows how futsal skills are handy even in football. I took in the game at Howzat Sports Bar in Makati with football friends. Beside me was Bixie Reyes, a former Benilde player and UFL striker in the league’s infancy, who was an avid futsal enthusiast. Moments after Bahadoran scored, Reyes turns to me and says “the futsal paid off.” 

Like a lot of Iranian kids, Misagh honed his game in the five-a-side variant, and his futsal technique has been the brick for his football game’s foundation. 

Bahadoran had never scored an international goal in football until last week, But as a Filipino futsal player he has scored them in bushels. He hasn’t played futsal for the Philippines in a while, presumably since doing might unhinge the many recalibrations his play has adopted since he became a full time pro in the big game.

Misagh illustrates the importance of having futsal as a building block for football in the Philippines. With very little space and resources, futsal can get Filipino kids from underprivileged backgrounds well on their way to a football life.

Javier Patiño’s two assists herald his return to international form. The man known as PatiGol didn’t get on the scoresheet but his incredible play made a huge difference.

On Misagh’s goal he double-clutched/pump-faked on his assist. That tiny bit of sleight-of-hand helped befuddle the Yemen defense enough to open up space for the score. On Ramsay’s goal he takes Patrick Reichelt’s header pass, shields brilliantly with his body, then gives the ball a poke forward to create a bit of breathing room. Then he has the quickness to get to the ball first and center to Ramsay, who created his own space very well by peeling off the Yemeni defenders. 

Patiño embodies the simple, fundamental basic footballing skills that make great players great. Boy have we missed him.

Thomas Dooley made last night’s game like the 2014 Challenge Cup all over the game by starting Luke Woodland at centerback. For the second time in a major competition Dooley put his faith in a youngster at center back. Last year it was Amani Aguinaldo in Maldives, this time it’s Woodland.

Woodland, who was only recently green-lighted to play for the Philippines by FIFA, did not disappoint. The former England youth international tidied up well and helped the side keep a clean sheet. 

Dooley is obviously a big believer that modern football is a young man’s game more than ever, which is why Juani Guirado and Rob Gier never got their bibs off on Tuesday night. Woodland will have to really prove his mettle in coming games, where speedier strikers will challenge him.

The 3-5-2/5-3-2 is working. With Jerry Lucena, Woodland and Daisuke Sato in the center of the defense, Stephan Palla and Martin Steuble played the wingback positions, needing to saw back and forth from offense to defense and vice versa.

In attack we flooded the midfield with personnel, creating plenty of options. In defense Palla and Steuble could snap back to lend a hand. 

The addition of a deeper-lying Phil Younghusband also made for good possession in the middle of the park.

Dooley’s experiment has thus worked, but it remains to be seen how it will function against a more adventurous side. 

Phil Younghusband had a quiet evening, and that’s fine. Phil had two half-chances in the first half, both with his weaker left foot. Neither prospered. He was not the center of attention on Tuesday and I am sure he didn’t mind too much. We shouldn’t either. 

Phil Younghusband didn't have to play the hero as his Azkals teammates have stepped up. File photo by Josh Albelda

For far too long we have been too reliant on his heroics to save the Philippines’ bacon. But with our current roster positively bristling with new weapons, the pressure is off Phil a bit, and that is a good thing. 

We’ve stockpiled points in our first two games. Storm clouds loom. Six points from two games is a fabulous place to be for the Philippines. We need the points because not everything is going to be this easy going forward.

On September 8 we entertain Uzbekistan, and if the “wounded dog” theory is correct, they will be up for a scrap after being gored 4-2 by Korea DPR in Pyongyang on Tuesday. The Koreans are also a perfect two-for-two after defeating Yemen in Doha 1-0 last week. 

And then October, the Mother of All Road Trips. A game against Korea in frigid Pyongyang on the eighth then a tangle with Bahrain in Riffa just five days later.

Believe me, we will need the six points we have banked this week. They will grow more and more precious in the months to follow.

Spare a thought and a prayer for Yemen and its people. Match commentator Natasha Alquiros mentioned that the Yemen national team had to take a thirteen-hour boat ride out of their nation to get to Doha for their encounter with Korea DPR. It was the only way out of a Saudi-led blockade that is part of the civil war raging there now. But the team had it easy compared to their countrymen. 

Yemen is a quagmire. The nation had been in crisis since 2011 before a full-blown shooting war erupted this year between southern separatists supported by Saudi Arabia and elements loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Salleh. 

The conflict can also be seen as a proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, who allegedly support the southern belligerents.

To add to this, Al Qaeda also control large swathes of the country and apparently ISIS is in the mix too. It’s a vicious, vile cocktail of competing interests that has compounded the misery for the Yemeni people, already one of the Arabian gulf’s most impoverished nations even before the violence broke out. 

It is reported that of the 2,500 casualties in this war, more than half have been civilians. As early as April, more then ten million Yemenis have insufficient food, water, electricity, and fuel for their basic needs. Oxfam says up to 850,000 Yemeni children are suffering from malnutrition because of the war, a heartbreaking statistic.

We couldn’t support their team last night, but now that the game is over, let’s all offer Yemen a prayer for peace. As long as they aren’t facing us, I will be cheering for them in Group H.

Football is at its best when it sheds light on the more important matters in this world.

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.

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