By Ryan Fenix
Even with the score still goalless at 0-0, Philippine national men’s football team coach Hans Michael Weiss admitted he knew, fifteen minutes in, that his team would win the game. The Azkals were simply relentless, so much so that the eventual 4-0 score line in the second leg of the World Cup qualifier would even flatter Sri Lanka.
It was simply men vs. boys on the pitch as the Azkals ran the Brave Reds off the park at the jam-packed Rizal Memorial Football Stadium Sunday night. Here are five things we learned from the game:
1. Manila can ably host an international football event.
After the Philippines drew Sri Lanka in the pot for the first round of qualifiers on March 30, people immediately raised doubts as to the capability of Manila, and the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, to host the home leg.
Three months later, all doubts were cast aside, as the game went by without a hitch. The pitch, a great talking point before the second leg due to the “potato and tomato field” in Colombo, was in fine form. Heavy rains before and during the game neither altered the playing surface nor hampered the flow of the game.
Indeed, with FIFA officials and international media looking on, Manila passed its first test as a world-class international venue with flying colors. This should open the floodgates for more international football events to be staged in Manila.
2. The “dream team” showed the world what it was capable of, given the right conditions.
Before the start of the their World Cup qualifying campaign, team manager Dan Palami said he was assembling a “dream team” of talent to join the Azkals.
On Sunday, they showed the Filipino crowd just what Palami was talking about.
For majority of the game, it was one-way traffic toward the Sri Lankan goal, with wave after wave of Azkals bearing down on hapless defenders. Utilizing the excellent pitch to the hilt, the Azkals displayed a mesmerizing display of one-touch passing and fluidity of movement without the ball. Build-up of play was excellent from the midfield to the final third, with brilliant ground play setting up chance after chance.
The Azkals’ pressure high up the field allowed Sri Lanka no time on the ball. Phil Younghusband, Stephan Schrock and Angel Guirado were the first lines of defense in this game, putting pressure on the Sri Lankan defenders. When the Brave Reds lost possession, the Azkals had the ball in very dangerous areas on the pitch, which led to scoring chances for the Philippine team.
Defenders Aly Borromeo, Rob Gier and Anton del Rosario thwarted every counter attack with ease, and Manny Ott tracked back whenever the fullbacks ventured on the overlap.
Neil Etheridge had a really easy run in the park; in fact, singing the national anthem was probably the hardest thing he had to do all day.
And yet, it can be argued that this team is not yet at full strength, with Ray Jonsson, Jerry Lucena, Dennis Cagara and Chris Greatwich all unavailable for various reasons.
3. Paul Mulders acquitted himself well at left-back, but his true worth will be tested against Kuwait.
Not being a natural defender, Mulders put out a solid display from left-back. Despite being given the license to join the attack from the onset, he was not negligent of his defensive duties. He stole possession no less than two times from the opposing right winger so easily that it was looked like he was taking candy from a two-year-old.
His true worth, however, will be gauged when the team battles Kuwait. Stephan Schrock will be unavailable due to the accumulation of cards, and coach Weiss has already identified Mulders as the obvious replacement for the suspended Filipino-German.
Against Sri Lanka, Weiss experimented with Mulders on the left side of midfield when Roel Gener took over left-back duties late in the game. But Mulders will have to move to central midfield against Kuwait to fill in the gaping void left by Schrock’s absence.
4. Strikers should be selfish, but they should be positively selfish.
We could’ve scored eight goals in the game, but one of the reasons we didn’t could be traced down to one thing: tunnel vision.
In the ninth minute, Phil Younghusband broke free down the left flank, shrugged off a fullback and found himself with acres of space to run into. Three defenders immediately track back to close him down. With his shooting angles quickly narrowing, he went for goal himself when the better option was to hold the ball while waiting for an onrushing James Younghusband for support.
The penchant for going for glory is something that needs to be worked on. Even Coach Weiss admitted to this problem after the game. “They should know that if they make the extra pass, the goal will come,” he said.
Ultimately, strikers are measured by the number of goals they score. However, they must also remember that the team’s result is vastly more important than their personal strike rates. The team should remember that next time a penalty is given to the Azkals, two brothers and teammates fighting over who should take the penalty does not seem appropriate.
By the nature of their trade, strikers must be a little selfish especially in front of goal. A little positive selfishness, i.e., knowing when to pass the ball, couldn’t hurt the Philippine football cause.
5. Rizal Memorial Football Stadium should be our fortress.
The Azkals have kept a clean sheet in our last six home matches, which shows us how much a factor home field is in football. The Azkals should be able to play their away games knowing that whatever happens, they can always count on support when they are playing at home.
The Kaholeros, who were in full force on Sunday, have been instrumental in providing vocal support to the players. Simply put, they were the heartbeat of capacity crowd and the lifeblood of the stadium.
Opposing teams visiting the Philippines should dread playing here. We may not have the seating capacity of a Bung Karno Stadium just yet, but we should be able to count on having the full voice of 16,000 people behind our team.
With mighty Kuwait looming on the horizon, the Azkals would need all the support they can get. Published in InterAksyon.com