THE Philippine Azkals broke the hearts of Filipino football fans when they suffered heart breaking loss to Thailand Friday night, November 25, in their last elimination round match of the AFF Suzuki Cup at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
The loss eliminated them from the knockout semis securing only one draw each against Singapore and Indonesia earlier.
Thailand's Sarawut Masuk managed to sneak in the winning goal past Filipino keeper Roland Mueller after he found a hole in the Azkals defense.
It was the worst finish of the Azkals since after advancing to the semis three times, in 2010, 20112 and 2014.
Lots of Filipino fans were hoping for the Azkals to make the semis this year again and even capturing the title in our home turf.
It was a sad ending for a great expectation.
What went wrong?
Before the Azkals kicked the first ball, the selection of the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan as a venue was a bad choice.
The distance from Manila allowed only very few fans to troop to the venue in the three matches. Bulacan does not even have a football association. How much more football fans.
So only the Azkals fans from the surrounding provinces were expected to come, mainly from Manila.
Only the diehard fans like the Philippine Ultras muster the courage to evade the traffic to watch the Azkals. Ordinary fans or shall we say the bandwagon fans were turned off.
The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) could have arranged for the matches to be played in Bacolod where the Panaad stadium is always full every time the Azkals played.
Maybe the bright guys of the PFF do not know that the crowd is the 12th man on the pitch. Matches in Bulacan blew away our homecourt advantage.
Coach Dooley has to admit he has bungled this one big time. From the start, it has been unwise for him to use the country’s top scorer Phil Younghusband at the midfield.
Phil is the Philippine’s top scorer since time in memorial and we lost his firepower up front when he was put at the middle to distribute the football.
Phil was excellent as a mid-fielder but we needed him up front because we have not discovered a scorer like him yet.
Javier Patino could have provided us the goals up front but he is not available so the wise choice is Phil, no one else.
We have tons of midfielders who could have played the position of Phil. Stephen Schrock could even handle the midfield job by his lonesome.
But the biggest blunder that Dooley committed was changing center Marco Casambre with few minutes more remaining with midfielder Kevin Ingreso.
The absence of Casambre left a void at the back and Thailand capitalized on it quickly as Sarawut Masuk scored after receiving a through pass from Prakit Deeprom.
Yes, we needed a goal during that time but plucking out Casambre was a mistake. He was solid at the back and he had some game saving saves earlier.
Dooley could have put Phil up front and Ingresso in the middle and send someone else to the bench, not Casambre.
Where was James Younghusband in the past two matches? We were missing his crosses. When he was put in the second half, the Azkals had two chances from his crosses.
Dooley has always been experimenting and has never made up his mind. In crucial matches and important tournaments like the AFF Suzuki Cup there is no time for experimentation. Just let our best players play and let them play in their best position.
Dooley should remember that there should be no time for tinkering during crucial tournaments as results are the most important.
Failure to get good results means losing your job. Let’s name a new Azkals coach.
By the way, we lost to Thailand’s second team as they kept most of their starters on the bench for the semis.