Football

RAMPAGING FULLBACK | Azkals are lucky to get another draw as do-or-die match awaits

AFP

AFP

The Azkals came from behind twice and escaped with a 2-2 draw against Indonesia in their second group stage match of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan.

Goals from Misagh Bahadoran and Phil Younghusband saw the Philippines salvage a precious point against a lively Indonesian side playing their first tournament after suspension from FIFA.

With only two points to their name, the Azkals will next play defending champions and still-undefeated Thailand to cap off the group stages.

Here are five thoughts from the Azkals ultimately fortunate draw with Merah Putih.

1. Azkals lucky to get a draw

Looking at the schedules ahead of the start of the Suzuki Cup, the grand master plan was for the Azkals to beat Singapore and then Indonesia in the first two matchdays, ensuring we have the six points needed to qualify for the semi-finals.

Instead, we had to settle for two consecutive draws in very different circumstances, to end the first two match days on two points.

The opening day draw against Singapore could be considered frustrating for the Azkals given the negative football played by the opponents.

But the Azkals should consider themselves very lucky for coming out of the Indonesia game with a point, considering that save for the post and some unlucky bounces, the Azkals could easily have been 2-5 losers on the day.

While the Philippines looked threatening at times on the counter, both our goals came from set pieces – Stephan Schrock delivering a free kick for a rushing Misagh Bahadoran to prod in; and a free kick special from Phil Younghusband late in the game.

Clearly, the team has to improve if we want to get a win against Thailand in the next game.

2. Defense a worry

Coming into the tournament, everyone knew about the Azkals defensive shortcomings – the lack of replacements in defense due to the retirements of Rob Gier and Juani Guirado and the injury to Simone Rota.

Wingback Jeffrey Christiaens, who was not even expected to play in this tournament, has been thrust in the role of starting centerback for the Azkals.

Christiaens and fellow centerback Amani Aguinaldo had played a total of zero minutes together at the heart of defense before, but fans are hoping that this makeshift defense would hold.

Against a defensive-minded Singapore, they did their job. But against a more attack-minded Indonesia, the frailties were all for everyone to see.

In addition, the Azkals’ all-time leading goal scorer Phil Younghusband is tasked to play the role of a holding midfielder. Now while he is not a liability in that position, don’t you think someone like Martin Steuble, a natural midfielder by position, could play that role better?

Let’s push Phil forward and let others worry about tracking back and helping out the back four.

Many Indonesian chances came about because of the huge gaping hole left in the middle, perhaps because of a lack of cover. We were caught off-guard time and time again.

3. Stephan Schrock’s big game

The fiery former Bundesliga man came in with a big reputation and against Indonesia, Stephan Schrock played a performance worthy of his lofty billing.

He controlled the tempo of the Azkals as he orchestrated the offense and ran back to help on defense.
What needs to be developed perhaps is the understanding with his teammates of when and where to release the ball once Schrocky is in full flight. That understanding however, takes match practice and time, something the Azkals don’t have.

4. There is good news

Amid the doom and gloom brought about by the two draws by the Azkals, there is good news.

If we beat an already qualified Thailand on the third group stage match, we will end up with five points and go through as runners-up of the group whatever the result of the Singapore versus Indonesia match.

But that is a big task ahead for the Philippines, as we have never beaten Thailand in the Suzuki Cup.

The War Elephants of Thailand have already topped the group, and coming from an energy-sapping run of three games in eight days, Coach Zico would be keen to rest his star players with an eye towards bigger tests ahead. This, on paper, should benefit the Philippines.

As Singapore and Indonesia shown, Thailand have their weaknesses, but it would take a concerted and monumental effort from the Azkals to get the full three points. It is difficult, but not an impossible task.

5. Disappointing turnout

A capacity crowd of 2,068 fans filled the cavernous stadium of the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan to witness the pulsating draw between the Azkals and Indonesia.

The number includes a healthy and noisy Indonesian contingent who made sure to let their team hear their support and to let the Azkals hear their displeasure.

With giant Indonesian flags, it sometimes felt like an Indonesia home game.

To be fair, the Philippine Sports Stadium is not the easiest of venues to get into, and the home fans that did make the trip did cheer the team on, albeit in spurts.

But with huge sections of empty seats welcoming TV audiences worldwide, the Suzuki can’t be impressed with the turnout so far.

There’s one more chance though.

The Azkals play their do or die group stage match against Thailand on Friday, November 25 at 8 p.m. Let’s all be there to lend our voice in support of our national team.

Ryan Fenix is InterAksyon.com’s resident football analyst. His football column Rampaging Fullback appears exclusively on the site. He runs the football blog The Prawn Sandwich Brigade, covers football for Sports5, writes for ESPN FC, and serves as a FIFA Ballon d’Or juror. He is also a huge tennis fan. You can follow him on Twitter.

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