The Azkals’ SE Asian tour: A bit of everything and more

By: Roy Moore - twitter: @roymondous

Wed. Sep. 12, 2012

With a win, a draw, and a controversial loss eventually nullified by FIFA, the national team's matches against Cambodia, Singapore, and Laos had everything for the Azkals. Here we take a look at some of the highlights and lowlights of the Azkals’ three games.

Defensive strengths

Previously not the Azkals’ strength, the defense held up in the first two games as Philippines didn’t concede a goal in open play throughout the tour. The only goals they conceded- the two against Laos- were both penalties won by the most experienced Laotian player in the team, Visay Phaphouvanin.

Two clean sheets out of three is a good record. It only takes a small adjustment for players to sheppard the strikers away from goal rather than lunge in and give away penalties, or pressure higher up the field to avoid them being so exposed in the first place. But the consistency in defense is encouraging, as playing time together and cohesion is most important for the defense.

The same back four started all three games and only Rob Gier didn’t play every minute as he was replaced at half-time by Jason De Jong against Cambodia. De Murga, Gier, and Christiaens featuring for Global last season, along with Jason Sabio playing for Kaya, are encouraging signs that the players will be available for the Suzuki Cup to ensure consistency in the lineup.

Limited options up front

The flipside of the team relying on their defense to create opportunities and even score is that throughout the tour, the Azkals lacked bite up front. Chieffy’s goal against Singapore would have been saved without that lucky bounce off the pitch, as he lacked his usual spark in all three games. Only one other goal by Phil Younghusband was scored, despite numerous chances and a domination by the Philippines in total shots in all three games.

Throughout the tour, the squad list showed a stacked midfield and a wealth of options for Coach Weiss. With a good number of substitutions made in each game, there also seems to be a much bigger trust between the Coach and players now. What was telling, however, was that only Phil Younghusband, Denis Wolf, and Ian Araneta were named as strikers.

Denis Wolf again failed to perform. His drought in front of goal, despite having good opportunities to score, would see him benched if there was another option. Simply put, the Azkals still haven’t found a way to replace Phil Younghusband.

Without Phil against Laos, there was no complete striker to run onto the through balls from Schröck. The style of play shifted completely; there wasn’t a style anymore. Laos formed triangles and passed their way through the Azkals’ line to some effect. Yet the Azkals seemed unaware of what kind of football to play without Phil available for the through ball or running onto passes out wide, too.

Against Singapore, Schröck managed several perfectly weighted through balls, and Younghusband could have had a hat-trick with the chances in that game. Without Phil, Wolf and Araneta failed to provide any threat up front.

This left the midfield and defense more exposed, as an underrated aspect of a striker’s game is to chase down the ball and pressure high up the pitch. Twice, Laos managed to exploit high lines as the attackers didn’t press, exposing the midfield and defense more, and twice they converted the penalties they won from those one-on-one situations.

Missing Guirado?

Against Laos, the Azkals had 13 shots in all but only two of them were on target, including Rob Gier’s late consolation goal. They looked lethargic and tired after traveling to three different countries in six days for what turned out to be two international friendlies and a brawl.

One player who could have made a difference was Angel Guirado. Due to his versatility and high work rate, The Fil-Spanish striker has already played as a winger in both the attacking and defensive center midfield roles alongside Phil Younghusband.

But despite the sexual harassment case finally being resolved finding both Lexton Moy and Guirado innocent, the unfair stigma still lingers. It certainly wasn’t the smallest factor in Guirado leaving to play in India.

Everything and a bit more

At the end of this, it must be remembered that these games are friendly matches, however violent it got at times. In a month, when the Azkals’ games are dedicated to the peace process, the three friendlies may not have been the best example peace, but in footballing terms, there are still positives to take from the performances.

Held by Cambodia, defeated by a depleted Singapore squad, and outplayed by a young, vibrant Laos side, the Azkals’ didn’t stamp their authority on the rankings or show how they deserve to be third in South East Asia. Though in football, even the best team rarely wins all their matches. In the English Premier League, only Arsenal lasted an entire Premier League season unbeaten, and they also drew 12 out of their 38 matches that year.

The Azkals will certainly need to improve against tougher opposition, including a fortified Singapore squad, once a number of their key players return from injury. However, given the tough schedule, the changing personnel, and the travel time to three different countries, the encouraging part is that the foundations for building a strong team for the Suzuki Cup are there. - RAF, GMA News

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