The Philippine national men’s football team slumped to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Bahrain in the first of the Azkals’ two scheduled friendlies ahead of the 2016 Suzuki Cup.
Coach Thomas Dooley experimented with his line-up, putting in Kevin Ingreso in the hole behind Misagh Bahadoran, with captain Phil Younghusband and Manny Ott alternately providing defensive duties.
Patrick Deyto was preferred in goal behind an Azkals back four featuring an Amani Aguinaldo and Luke Woodland center back pairing, with James Younghusband and Iain Ramsay providing width in the midfield.
An overall lethargic and unconvincing performance saw the Azkals lose, but Mike Ott came on to provide some cheer for the fans as he scored his team’s maiden goal.
Here are five observations from the match.
1. Reinvention of James Younghusband
Dropped last year from the Azkals, the elder Younghusband has reinvented his game and has developed new weapons for the team.
From being a winger whipping in crosses from the right, James has bulked up and provided the squad with another option at the number nine position.
Winning almost all aerial battles, James has surely cemented his place in the Azkals team for the Suzuki Cup, and arguably a place in the starting 11.
The onus is now on how Thomas Dooley will best utilize the hulking Loyola captain. When aerial balls are sent into the box, his ability to win it is something the team could exploit, preferably with teammates getting close to his knockdowns.
2.) Kevin Ingreso is not a number 10
The former HSV II standout may have been playing as an attacking mid before for his club team in Germany but in this Azkals line-up, the Ceres defender is best suited to take up a more defensive position.
Coach Dooley may have wanted to experiment on how Ingreso would fare in a more advanced position, but after 45 minutes he would have seen enough.
In the first half, Ingreso created a chance in the 27th minute when he flicked on a pass for Manny Ott to shoot. But there was more fluidity when Mike Ott came on to replace him in the second half.
With the Suzuki Cup looming, it is important for Dooley to get his tactics spot on, and these friendly games should help him find his best starting 11.
3. Are Phil Younghusband and Manny Ott best suited to playing that deep?
The Azkals coaching staff presumably wanted to let Ott and Younghusband to dictate the play from deep, perhaps almost as deep-lying playmakers. But that is not playing to their strengths.
They both like to be on the ball, go forward, join the attack and be involved in the final third.
Ideally, when one of Ott or Phil join the attack, the other should be disciplined enough to hold his line. But at times, this isn’t happening, leaving the Azkals back four exposed time and again, especially when we lose the ball in dangerous areas.
While both are talented enough to play in any outfield position, should we really rein in and curb the attacking instincts of two of the better offensive players in the country?
4. Kids are alright
Mike Ott grabbed the headlines with his goal for the Azkals. But even without it, he still performed brilliantly.
Taking up good positions and displaying a crucial striker’s instinct, the younger Ott provided spark off the bench for the Azkals.
However, the other subs also made good accounts of themselves.
Pao Bugas and Daniel Gadia worked hard when they came on, while Fitch Arboleda provided a good shift when he came on. All three play their club football in the UFL, certainly a good sign for the domestic league and their presence bodes well for the Azkals’ future.
5. Need a lot more fans in the stadium
Kick-off was scheduled at 8 p.m., and swathes of empty seats greeted the Azkals as they took to the field.
Granted it was a Friday night, where traffic will be at its most horrendous, but certainly the national team deserve more than that, especially with the Suzuki Cup being hosted in Manila in five weeks’ time.
The Ultras Filipinas once again provided a voice, but more warm bodies are needed if we are to realize the full potential of what it means to play at home. The next home friendly against North Korea will be a great opportunity for the fans to show their support which the team so badly needs.
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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