06 December 2014

Philippines-Thailand Suzuki Cup Tie Remains Tight after Goalless Draw in Manila

Image captured from video on the
AFF Suzuki Cup YouTube channel.
The Philippines and Thailand played out a scrappy goalless draw last night in the first leg of their AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final tie at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. It was not your proverbial sight for sore eyes; but then, semi-finals seldom are and it was a cracking match nonetheless.

Last night’s result mirrors that of two years ago when the Azkals drew the home leg at the same venue then lost by the narrowest of margins to eventual champions Singapore. However, that is just about where the similarities end.

In 2012, Singapore was an experienced and disciplined side that came to close shop and methodically prevented the Philippines from playing. In contrast, the Thais last night were neither experienced nor disciplined.

The Philippines could have come away from the match with the cushion of a two goal lead. Crucially, Thailand’s captain and goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan managed to reach an exquisite curling freekick from Phil Younghusband in the 32nd minute to keep the game goalless.


One rather suspects that Younghusband will have the ultimate say in this intriguing cup tie with Thailand. Last night, the exquisite freekick apart, he looked at times over-eager and on one or two instances could have picked out better placed teammates but chose not to.
In the 53rd minute, a pin-point pass from Daisuke Sato sent Younghusband through on goal with just the goalkeeper to beat. The Philippines’ top striker, however, lost his footing just at the point of shooting.

Although traditional thinking has it that a goalless draw is something of a disadvantage to take to an away leg of a cup tie, for the Philippines this may not necessarily be so.

Two years ago, the Azkals looked out of their depth in the semi-finals against a physically strong Singapore side that was prepared to use fair and foul means to keep them out.

Last night, the Filipinos might not have played with the panache with which Indonesia was put to the sword in the group stages; but instead played with Singapore’s you-shall-not-pass attitude of two years ago.

The Philippines’ defending was still not perfect, and, indeed, too many freekicks were still being conceded in dangerous positions. Significantly, however, defending at set pieces was outstanding.

Moreover, the Thais were out-hustled, out-tackled and out-muscled in a way that no team in Southeast Asia has done to them since they lost the 2012 final to Singapore. That the Philippines were the first team last night to prevent the Thais from scoring in the current tournament should not be overlooked.

The Thais looked attractive with their neat one-touch passing; and not that this unlocked the Philippines’ defence last night. In fact, they faded badly after dominating the opening quarter of an hour and allowed the Philippines to get on top as the match wore on.

That they would have a go at the Philippines early in the match was, apparently, something that the Azkals’ coaching staff was well aware of. Such has been the fitness and work ethic of Thomas Dooley’s team that the players worked their proverbial socks off first to absorb Thailand’s initial forays then later to dominate the game.

This cup tie, therefore, remains finely balanced and can swing either way. For the Thais, any home leg advantage is already tempered by the knowledge that main striker Kirati Keawsombut will likely be unavailable because of an apparent hamstring injury suffered last night.

Neither can the Thais avail of the services of his substitute Adisak Kraisorn, who was given his marching orders after an off-the-ball assault on young Amani Aguinaldo.

For the Philippines, the primary question will be if the team can play at the same level of focus and commitment inside a packed stadium in Bangkok this coming Wednesday. Crucially, the experience of having played before a raucous and hostile crowd in Hanoi last week, albeit in a losing effort, may yet serve a purpose.

One rather suspects that Younghusband will have the ultimate say in this intriguing cup tie with Thailand. Last night, the exquisite freekick apart, he looked at times over-eager and on one or two instances could have picked out better placed teammates but chose not to.

Who knows, maybe liberated of the psychological need to please the home crowd, Younghusband may yet be the one who fires the Philippines in the finals. At the very least, he is due a good game. Bangkok beckons, Phil.

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