11 December 2014

Bangkok Failure for Philippine Azkals Still a Tremendous Achievement

Image captured from video on the
AFF Suzuki Cup YouTube channel.
I do not know that I have reason to complain because I did write in a previous article that I did not think we would be winning the AFF Suzuki Cup this year. Soon, was what I thought after the friendly defeat to Thailand last month; but not this year.

It was just that the 4-nil rout of Indonesia in Hanoi in the group stage was like heady wine. You know, the sort that makes you lose your better judgement and seduces you against your will.

Still, I felt reasonably confident that Thailand could be had, especially after that plucky goalless draw last Saturday at the Rizal Memorial. The prospect of a score draw and an away goals win was just as seducing.

However, any optimism that I felt always was premised on the Philippines holding Thailand in the first 20 or so minutes. The Thais are a fit and enthusiastic team; but even they would not be able to sustain the pace at which they like to open for the entire 90 minutes.


Young Amani was booed by the hostile crowd every time he touched the ball, but the youngster played with the bravado of youth, an assuredness beyond his years and stood proud and tall at the heart of the Philippines’ defence.
But of course, Chanathip Songkrasin had the Thais ahead as early as the 7th minute; and here was the goal that, along with the near sell-out crowd at the Rajamangala, fired up the Thais’ backup batteries.

There was no arguing the quality of Chanathip’s finish; but the Filipinos remained glued in front of goal after a deep corner and failed to close down the cross from which Thailand scored. This, or so it appeared to me, was the effect that Thailand’s twelfth man was having on the away team.

So outclassed were the Philippines in the opening half that a first shot at goal did not come until the 41st minute, a weak Patrick Reichelt header from a Paul Mulders cross. Yet, because Thailand continued to lead only by a solitary goal, the semi-final tie remained in the balance and could still be turned on its head by a Philippines goal.

In fact, the Filipinos began the second half looking the livelier side. Martin Steuble, pulled down to leftback after Daisuke Sato was substituted in the first half, stung Thai goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan’s palms with a fierce drive in the 51st minute.

Kroekrit Thawikan scored the first of his two goals in the 57th minute to give Thailand the cushion of a two-goal lead and thus leaving the Philippines with a mountain to climb if at all there was a way back.

I had noticed in the Peace Cup final last September when Simone Rota was deployed as centerback that he had a tendency to play opposing forwards onside by stepping back when everyone else had stepped up.

This was basically how Kroekrit got behind the Philippines’ defence to score. There was no denying that the pass which sent him through was exquisite; but Kroekrit would have nonetheless been offside had Rota stepped up at the right moment.

Image captured from video on the AFF Suzuki Cup YouTube channel.
Rota is still, to my mind, a godsent for the erstwhile problematical rightback position; but Thomas Dooley needs to get him on the same page as the other defenders. The offside trap is a delicate issue at best; and for it to work at all requires utmost synchronicity in the backline.

Kroekrit scored his brace in the 86th minute to put the tie beyond doubt out of the Philippines’ reach; but by this time the Azkals had been reduced to ten men after Steuble’s sending off in the 82nd minute.

But naturally, I am disappointed that we got dumped out of the AFF Suzuki Cup for the third time at the semi-final stage. In perspective, however, had anyone told me ten years ago that we would soon be playing three consecutive semi-finals of the same tournament, I would have thought that person stark raving mad.

Two years ago, the Thais could not even be bothered to go to the Rajamangala for their team’s opening Suzuki Cup tie against the Philippines. Last night was a near sell-out. Moreover, the Thais were fidgety – and some were downright nasty – over social media.

To me, this only meant that the Thai public was only too aware that the goalless draw at the Rizal Memorial had made the Bangkok leg a tricky affair; and that the Philippines had every capability of reaching the finals instead of their team.

In other words, we had them scared. Most of my life, if there was one regional fixture that I used to dread the most, it was the one against mighty Thailand. That we had the Thai public concerned about our team’s visit meant that we are, to the Thais, no longer an unfashionable opponent.

That, to my mind, is a terrific achievement!

While last night’s result was ultimately disappointing, it should not be lost on everybody that Dooley has put in place a very fit team with a great work ethic, increased the pool of players at his disposal and has the team playing an expansive and attractive brand of football.

A lot is being said about Thailand and Vietnam having young teams. We do not. Instead, we have an enviable balance of youth and experience. What is more, the youngsters breaking through have been playing at a level that belies their years.

In fact, although the Philippines’ performance last night was generally tepid, the most outstanding performance was arguably delivered by 19-year old Amani Aguinaldo. The youngster was Thailand’s public enemy number one after he had top striker Adisak Kraisorn sent off in the Manila leg.

Young Amani was booed by the hostile crowd every time he touched the ball, but the youngster played with the bravado of youth, an assuredness beyond his years and stood proud and tall at the heart of the Philippines’ defence.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the Thais were hostile less because of Adisak’s dismissal but more because Amani represents the future of Philippine football, a future when the Rajamangala will no longer be a bridge too far for this team called the Philippine Azkals.





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