21 January 2012

Azkals Lose Penalty Shootout to Incheon FC

The wonder of it all is that there probably was a larger crowd at the Rizal Memorial to watch an unfashionable third-tier Korean club side; albeit, perhaps the KIA Rio sedans that were being raffled off had something to do with it. Yet, after a pulsating game in which the local Azkals lost their third friendly against club sides on the trot, whatever the motive those in the crowd had, they certainly got their money’s worth.

True, Bin Tae Wan scored for Incheon FC in the 20th minute in a move that looked suspiciously offside. The Azkals, though, were getting more than the lion’s share of possession in direct anti-thesis to their rather languid performance earlier this month against Internazionale of Madrid.

Not that the Koreans, of course, were anywhere near the same league as the Spaniards in terms of technique. Where the Madrileños moved the ball around with Barça-esque fluidity, the Koreans were content to keep things tight at the back and then counter-attacked with lightning speed.

So tight was the Korean defence in the first half that while the Azkals won territorial domination, they were given only the faintest sight of goal. Debutante Fil-German Dennis Wolf almost won a penalty in the 23rd minute, but the referee consulted with his assistant and a freekick outside the box was awarded instead.

Chieffy Caligdong, skipper in the continuing absence of Aly Borromeo, lofted the ensuing freekick well over the crossbar which was probably just as well. Replays showed that if it was barely a foul in the first place.

The only other chance that the Azkals were allowed was when rightback Jerry Barbaso sent in a cross in the 37th which Ian Araneta did well to control. His shot on the turn from a narrow angle did not do justice to his immaculate first touch.

The pattern continued in the second half; although the Koreans were probably starting to suffer from the humidity and were starting to leave spaces in midfield. Still, it took a sensational goal-line clearance from Nestorio Margarse to keep out what would have been a second Korean goal in the 80th minute.

Before that, the Azkals enjoyed long periods of almost total dominance. In the 53rd minute, Misagh Bahadoran took a pass from Caligdong and wove past a couple of Korean defenders. He shot wide, probably not realizing that he could have taken a couple more strides before pulling the trigger.

Not to be outdone, Caligdong, on the opposite flank, wove past three defenders three minutes later before sending a right footed shot from a tight angle into the night air of the Rizal Memorial.

As the match drew to a close, Wolf came more and more into the picture and missed a series of good chances. One such chance, a shot which the Korean goalkeeper could only parry out for a corner, led to the Azkals’ equalizer in the dying minutes. Young Marwin Angeles, like Wolf debuting for the Azkals, collected the corner just top of the penalty box and drove a spectacular volley into the roof of the net.

Because the match was a friendly – albeit, there was the KIA Rio Cup to add some gloss to what was nothing but a training match – five penalties were immediately taken after the final whistle without extra time being played. The Koreans won the shootout, 4-2.

Was there portent in two Fil-Spaniards – Angel Guirado and Carlos de Murga – missing their shots while the two that went in were both scored by local born and bred talents? It probably does not matter; and at any rate, the shootout was an education in itself for the Filipino crowd.

It would be interesting to find out, though, how Michael Weiss had prepared his team for the shootout. Weiss’ compatriots are, of course, masters of the shootout in international competitions. Go ask the English.

Weiss was probably right to say that the result of this match was not really important. This was, in fact, a match to see the sort of material that the new and peripherals players were made of.

Wolf, having played in the Bundesliga, was not exactly a peripheral player. However, on his debut, he displayed nous in almost winning a penalty and was getting himself in all sorts of goalscoring situations. He also kept his football uncomplicated and I rather thought that his work rate was so much better than Phil Younghusband’s.

Margarse was solid in the Jamie Carragher way; but he is not the sort who can bring the ball out of defence. Barbaso was fast and committed; but always looked like a Molotov bomb waiting to explode. Will somebody also please teach him to stay goal-side of his man!

The night, of course, belonged to young Agustin. It was no more than a brief cameo, yes. But even in the few minutes that he was on the pitch, the young lad showed the composure and awareness of a veteran. The goal, of course, was the coup de grace.

It is, perhaps, food for thought that our national team lost to a third-tier Korean team. It can always be argued, of course, that this team was not our full international side. On the other hand, I do not think that I saw Manchester United’s Park Jung Sung in the Korean team, either.

It is not, however, as though I wish to take away from what was by and large a swaggering performance by the Azkals. It is just that the danger for the team is that Filipinos can be remarkably fickle in their support. Just ask the highly-paid professionals of the Philippine Basketball Association who have had the privilege of representing the country in international competition.

It was significant, perhaps, that the Azkals did not really lose the match in regulation time. That the team scored as the minutes ticked away was just the drama that the local crowd needed; for if the Filipino crowd can be fickle, it also so loves a fighter, especially one that fights from a losing position.





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