13 November 2011

Azkals v Myanmar: Promise in a Losing Effort


There were, after last week’s shock loss of the Philippine Under-23 football team to Timor Leste in the 2011 SEA Games, some really over the top reactions by fans and pundits alike over the Internet. I wonder what the reactions will be after tonight’s deflating 0-5 loss to Myanmar, which eliminates whatever remote possibilities might have been lingering of our progressing to the semi-finals.

Personally, I do not think I ever enjoyed a losing effort by a Philippine national football team more than I did tonight’s match. The score may not make for pretty headline reading; but the performance definitely was probably the most cohesive in four matches played in the SEA Games so far.

Coach Michael Weiss finally solved the Manny Ott-Jason de Jong dilemma by pulling the latter back to play in central defence. That solution, although it might have been forced onto management by circumstance, still nevertheless gave the Philippines better shape in midfield.

For the first time in the tournament, the Philippines probably earned its lion’s share of possession. The attacks were built more intricately and mislaid passes were less frequent. We were attacking less frequently down the middle and finally made our wingers do what they have always been there to do. In patches, it was even delightful to watch.



That said, attacking is – of course – but one side to the game. It was at the other end that our problems have been apparent right from the opening game against Vietnam. If team management is scouting for additional talent for the 2013 edition of the games – to which I looked forward immediately after the Timor Leste match – then one does not have to be Einstein to determine which positions need better personnel.

We did enjoy a bit of luck in carving out that totally ecstatic victory over Laos the other night. Indeed, luck has this frightful habit of balancing itself out over time. That seemed to be the case when Myanmar opened the scoring in the 11th minute after Roland Müller spilled a corner. This was unfortunate because earlier, we had been taking the game to Myanmar.

Unfazed, the Philippines played probably its brightest spell throughout the whole tournament after the opening goal but without creating clearcut chances. The lively OJ Clariño, in particular, was getting himself into good positions inside the box. The other OJ – Porteria – got to the end of the leftwing cross in the 36th minute. The teenager, though, was off-balanced and could only volley wildly over.

Jeff Christiaens did well to win the ball from a Myanmar defender in the 39th minute. His shot, though, lacked sting and was straight at the goalkeeper.



From this play, Myanmar broke quickly down the right flank – which I have written before as our problematical left side – to score the second goal. De Jong lost his footing just as the ball arrived in the middle; and Müller, who left his line probably a second too soon, was stranded when the shot was made.

All hopes of a fightback were quickly doused a minute from the restart when de Jong allowed himself to be turned when a ball came in from the – where else? – right. The Myanmar’s striker’s finish past Müller was exquisite.

Myanmar added two more goals to improve its goal difference and add some gloss to its victory. In truth, these two goals came when the Philippines was again playing some eye-catching attacking football.

That we will not be winning any medals in the tournament was, perhaps, apparent from the opening match. Having said that, team management has said that this team was being built for the 2013 games. Expectation management could probably have started even before the team flew out to Jakarta; but, in truth, it was correct for the team just to be there if just to soak in much needed experience.



The most satisfying relevelation, for me, of our participation in the SEA Games has been the performance of the homegrown talents. Joshua Beloya, of course, will forever be the hero of 11-11-11. Today, OJ Clariño ran his socks to the ground harrying opposing defenders and even got himself into goalscoring positions. The decision-making in these positions was, perhaps, naïve at times; but this is always improved by experience.

Of the foreign-based players, Ott and de Jong brought much-needed experience and composure to midfield; and these are the same qualities that both bring to the senior side. I am not impressed, though, with their midfield partnership because they are too similar to each other. I hope a creative midfielder can be found or developed.

Back to today’s match, Myanmar perhaps more than the other teams we have played offer Philippine team management the opportunity to review – if not really to rethink – playing philosophy. That most of our shots statistics were innocuous strikes from distance shows how compact Myanmar’s defence was all-game long. That meant that Myanmar was defending en masse when not in possession.



Flowing attacking moves are great for television; but goals are better. There is no point to these attacking moves unless these are built on a sound defence. In this regard, Myanmar was our master. They kept things tight at the back, broke quickly forward in numbers if opportunities presented themselves but could hold onto possession comfortably if there were no chances to break.

The late great Bill Shankly’s philosophy – copied, naturally – was to build his team’s spine down the middle. We have in Müller somebody who can potentially even challenge Neil Etheridge for the number 1 jersey; a midfield that is probably just short of an Arteta-esque type of creative playmaker; and a glut of choices among emerging young strikers.

We have two years to find the missing link; but even tonight, we were already treated to what may lie in store in 2013. That was why I enjoyed watching tonight’s losing effort so much: because I was not expecting too much from a patched up defence and was determined to enjoy the vastly improved forward play. Even God took 7 days to build the Universe; and Michael Weiss is only German.

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