Suzuki Cup: Azkals reach semis, but 'the best is yet to come' says coach Weiss

By: Roy Moore - twitter: @roymondous

Mon. Dec. 03, 2012

 
After the Philippines defeated Myanmar for the first time in their history, they will now meet Singapore in the semifinals, a team they have already beaten twice this year in friendly games. The Philippines finished second in the group, only dropping points to Thailand, who finished as group leaders, while Singapore topped Group B after victories against Laos and hosts Malaysia.

Defeating Myanmar - fitness and organization

Reaching the semifinals was no easy task for the Philippines. Drawn in the ‘Group of Death,’ Group A had the top four ranked South East Asian sides by the time the tournament kicked off. The key to progress in most competitions, though, is preparation, and the Philippines played more friendly matches and had more camps than any of their opponents.

Only eight players survived from the 2010 Suzuki Cup squad, as the rapid development and professionalization of the local league, the UFL, has lifted the quality of the sport in the country. All in all, five UFL clubs have representatives in the 2012 national team.

With the US training camp and the South East Asian and Middle East tours, the players were fit and ready to run for the full ninety minutes. With a deep bench, those few who did tire were replaced by players just as good.

After the game, speaking on behalf of the Myanmar side, assistant coach Tim Mying Aung said that compared to the Philippine side, “We [Myanmar] lacked fitness and football technique....They were tired.”

Indeed, after a fairly even first half, where neither side made any real scoring opportunities, the Azkals dominated the second half, a staple of their Suzuki Cup group stage, where all of the Azkals’ goals came in the second half. Phil Younghusband grabbed his first goal of the Suzuki Cup, controlling a perfectly flighted Jason De Jong pass, though the impact substitute was Angel Guirado, who changed the game after coming in early in the 35th minute, hitting the post before wrapping up the win in injury time.

The Azkals concept

After the game, Azkals coach Hans Weiss first congratulated the team and noted, “We have now worked on good communication within the team and we found a concept of how to break down teams like Myanmar and also Vietnam....With one move [our players] can decide matches.”

Jason De Jong, who provided the assist for the first goal, noted that the team has been built from the defense upwards. “With Rob [Gier] and Juani [Guirado] in the defense they couldn’t get through. And with me cleaning up the second ball where are they going to go?” he said.

Indeed that strong Azkals backline has kept two clean sheets in the three Suzuki Cup games and four clean sheets in the last six matches.

Myanmar could find no way through the defense, trying to work the channels to avoid the strength and height of Gier and Guirado, but there they only found more misery when confronted by Carli De Murga and Dennis Cagara. De Murga put his body on the line more than a few times during the game and Cagara stood out to the point of being this writer’s man of the match. In keeping Myanmar's star player frustrated all game, and starting the Azkals’ attacks with some sublime passing, Cagara not only shut out Myanmar but put the Azkals on the counter attack.

No more long balls

Another key element in the transition of the Azkals has been the shift away from the long ball. Philippine football used to be dependent on hoofing the ball upfield to an attacker on the counter, but over the last two years, the Azkals have started to play some real, quality football.

That work started with the previous coach Simon McMenemy, but Weiss has taken the Philippines to another level in that regard. All their goals in the group stage came from open play. Passes from Patrick Reichelt, Jason De Jong, Carli De Murga, and two from Angel Guirado particularly carved open the opposition’s defense and presented the chance to score for the Azkals’ five goals so far.

The new quality of passing and build-up play has meant that the Azkals have only failed to score three times in their 21 games so far in 2012, those being in goalless draws with Cambodia and Bahrain, and the 2-0 loss to North Korea.

‘The best is yet to come’

Speaking of the transition, Weiss was very happy with the Azkals’ performances but added that there was still more to come from the Philippines. “[We are] very happy because we felt a bit of pressure....But the team mastered this pressure and it shows the [that their] maturity has come a very long way.

"The best is yet to come.”

The German coach was full of praise for his side and their progress since he took over, saying, “We got out of a very strong group....Since I have taken over, we have made a lot of history.”

Sitting next to him at the press conference, Angel Guirado and Phil Younghusband were both full of praise for the progress of the Azkals too.

After opening the scoring for the Azkals, Phil Younghusband spoke of his relief in finding the net, saying that “as a striker you’re judged on goals and get your confidence on goals....I’m just happy to get to the semifinals. I feel recently I’ve been working hard and tracking back and Coach Weiss has really helped me in that respect...eventually it does pay off and on a personal level it does feel good [to score].”

With the core of the side based in the UFL now, training together every week to improve the team chemistry and cohesion, the Philippines has the resources to continue that progress and continue to rewrite history.

On to the semis

The Philippines will host Singapore on December 8, before flying to Singapore for the second leg on the 12th. In the other semifinal match, Group A winners Thailand will face Group B runners-up Malaysia. Their games will be played on the 9th and 13th December, with the aggregate winner facing the winner between the Philippines and Singapore. - RAF / AMD, GMA News


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