During his man of the match interview after the Philippines beat Singapore 1-0 in Cebu, goalkeeper Ed Sacapano was asked on his thoughts about the 1st half injury time penalty given to Singapore. Sacapano more or less said that he would go to the right on this one. It turned out to be the right decision as Sacapano saved that penalty to keep the match level at the end of the first half.
For me, that injury time penalty save by Sacapano was a turning point for the match given the context of that penalty decision. The referee botched the penalty call, Christaens didn't commit a foul and it was the Singaporean who slammed into Christaens as he lost his footing. If Singapore scored that penalty it would have been unfair. So what if they were playing very well and dominating the match in that first half. Our team did a good job as well in keeping them at bay, playing solid and compact defense. Philippines didn't deserve to go one goal down at the dying minutes of the first half due to a bad call by the referee. Considering Singapore's dominant play, giving up a late goal at the end of the half would have had quite a demoralizing effect on the team as they would head into the second half chasing the game. Good thing Sacapano stepped up and kept our team in the fight, definitely a man of the match moment. That save could have been that all important boost to the team's confidence and spirit that gave them the feeling that, yes, this is going to be our night.
Sacapano's penalty save was crucial in terms of its potential impact to both sets of players at a mental, psychological and emotional level. Keeping the scores level at halftime was important. Sacapano chose to go to the right and the second half of the match was a much different affair than the first.
In football, there are 2 big words often used when it comes to players: form and confidence. You can more or less track form using statistics and keenly observing match-day performances over a period of time. I hear big-time clubs in Europe even have computer programs for this purpose. Confidence is a whole lot trickier; it is mainly psychological, mental and emotional. It's in the player's head and not so easy to get inside of, but its value is never underestimated as confidence can spell a major difference on the field of play.
The match showed these 2 factors at work. The effect was evident as the second half started to get underway. When the Philippines went ahead, it was no longer in doubt that victory was highly possible. If the Philippines was oozing in confidence by the second half, that's because our guy at goal had it in abundance. When Sacapano saved that penalty, he probably felt that that ball was not going to get past him that evening. His 2 other equally impressive diving saves from free kicks later in the match validates that assumption.
It’s quite timely too that Sacapano exhibited tremendous form and confidence in this match. As we all know, this friendly against Singapore is the final tune up match of the Philippines before it heads off for its 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign starting 27 November. There's high hopes for this team to replicate its 2010 Suzuki Cup achievement of reaching the semifinals. The possibility also exists that this team could go all the way. But before all of that, we face some very tough opponents in the group stage. That is why the absence of our Europe based players has raised a little bit of concern. Their presence provides added quality and high level match experience to the team.
Among the absences, most notable will be our goalkeepers. Since the Suzuki Cup is not on the FIFA calendar, clubs are not obliged to release players for international duty and both Neil Etheridge and Roland Muller have club commitments during that period. There is no confirmation yet if they will be able to make it to the tournament or even just be able to play in a match or two.
This situation leaves us with our third choice goalkeeper, Ed Sacapano. Looking back at his performance against Singapore and the Peace Cup, he just needs to keep up that sort of form and confidence throughout the Suzuki Cup campaign and we should be relishing our chances. Of course, his team mates have to step up as well, though the team's performances over the series of matches organized to prepare the team for the Suzuki Cup shows that our neighbors don’t take us too lightly.
It’s also good to see we now have a deeper bench as well with a large number of quality players now locally based. Before, Coach Weiss had limited options for substitutions. Before it appeared that substitutions were made mainly to put in fresh legs and to just hang in there, and even then he rarely made these changes. Now he can make a number of changes without sacrificing quality and even create a decisive impact on the match. For a tournament like the Suzuki Cup that involves a group stage playing 3 matches with only 2 days rest in between, a deep bench is crucial as injuries, match suspension and fatigue are a constant concern.
This friendly victory over Singapore is a good setting from which to kick off our Men's National Football Team's Suzuki Cup campaign. A well fought victory over a tough opponent, a number of players brimming with confidence and in good form, and a deeper bench should provide our team a decent chance at a good showing.
Make no mistake, this will not be easy. We are in a tough group. While our team has made tremendous strides and very notable improvement in the past 2 years, our neighbors haven't been standing still either. Remember, this is football and anything can happen.
For now, let's just sit back for now to enjoy and savor the victory against Singapore that was brought about in no small measure by Sacapano's right decision to go right on that penalty kick. By the week after next we'll be back in front of our televisions again, nervously and excitedly watching and hoping that our players, our Coach and the referees are making the right decisions.