After Malaysia draw, Azkals remain a work in progress
The Azkals were stymied in a tuneup before AFC Asian Cup qualifying, settling for a scoreless draw against Malaysia in an international friendly on Wednesday, March 22 at Rizal Memorial Stadium. Still, there are reasons for Azkals fans to be upbeat.
The team is still finding its feet, and that's okay for now. On paper, our attack looked fearsome last Wednesday. Javi Patiño and Phil Younghusband up top in a classic 4-4-2 with a flat central midfield composed of Kevin Ingreso and Manny Ott. On the right flank, Misagh Bahadoran, and on the left, Iain Ramsey.
But Bahadoran got hurt in the second half, and Mike Ott came in. An organized Malaysian defense collared the strike force for a third consecutive goalless draw between the teams in senior international matches. I suspect Malaysia is practicing playing compact defensively since they are in a pretty tough AFC cup qualifying group with North Korea, Lebanon and Hong Kong.
The best chance came in the first half when Patiño teed up Phil with a gorgeous pass, but the move did not prosper. After that, chances were relatively few.
The disjointedness in the side is understandable. The Ceres contingent, who comprised four of the starting eleven, only joined the team on the 20th. Another 4 - Phil Younghusband, Dennis Villanueva, Amani Aguinaldo, and Misagh Bahadoran - have had limited matches in the last few months in the absence of a league. That should mean some rust, although Global has been in the AFC Cup and AFC Champions League qualifying. Plus, Patiño has been away from the team for over a year.
In truth, this friendly is really a prelude to Tuesday's qualifier versus Nepal. This game is really meant to iron out the kinks and work out some cohesion. The team can be forgiven for not scoring tonight, but on Tuesday there can be no excuses. Nothing less than a win, preferably a decisive one, will do.
Dennis Villanueva is another centerback option after tonight. If memory serves me correctly, the Global FC Fil-Italian was deployed as a centerback in one game in the lead up to last year's Suzuki Cup, I believe at Kyrgyzstan. If I recall he got a silly yellow card in that game in the first half then never started again at that position until Wednesday.
The man who turns 25 next month was solid riding shotgun beside Aguinaldo. No major mistakes that I remember. This is an important development, since we are always on the lookout for young Cbs for the post-Rob Gier/Juani Guirado era. Now Dooley has another viable option aside from Marco Casambre, who is still young and is recovering from injury at the moment. Villanueva's confidence should be high at this moment, and this augurs well for the AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign.
Patiño, despite not scoring, showed his class. I loved that moment in the first half when the Philippines was pressing the Malaysian defense deep. A Malaysian wide player on the right zips over a pass to his central defender with Patiño nearby. But the Shenan Jianye star doesn't harry the defender. Instead Patiño correctly read that the defender would have to offload to his keeper, Khairulazhan Khalid, and went straight to the goalie. Khalid did get the clearance off, but it was a lot hairer than it could have been thanks to Patiño.
Oftentimes coaches and veterans talk about how important game-reading is in this game. How smart players plot their actions a few moves ahead and anticipate what foes will do. Patiño, who played in the Spanish second tier, has the kind of football IQ honed through the excellent Spanish youth system and pyramid. That play was just a snapshot of his footballing intellect. This is why I strongly suspect he will either score or create a goal on Tuesday.
Roland Müller says goodbye to the Azkals. In what was one of the most oddly-timed international retirements in memory, the Ceres-Negros keeper, who was selected for this game, called time on his international career at 29 years of age and after 22 senior caps. He made the announcement via Instagram on Wednesday morning, citing a need to take care of his family as his primary reason.
Müller is a terrific shot-stopper who wore the gloves for the Philippines with distinction. A few folks I know who are very knowledgeable about goalkeeping rate him a bit better than Neil Etheridge because of his outstanding technique and agility. He was also a fantastic at penalties, snuffing out two penalty kicks in the 2014 Challenge Cup. Last week Müller stuffed Lucas Cano from 12 yards out in a 0-0 draw against Malaysian club Felda United in the AFC Cup. (What is it with Filipino and Malaysian teams and 0-0 draws??)
Why did Müller quit the Azkals so early? I haven't been able to speak to him, but all I know is that club football is the real bread-and-butter of a footballer. International football is the sideline that eats into family time that doesn't really pay too much. In the Philippines club football is still in an embryonic stage, so some Pinoy fans have difficulty grasping that concept.
Müller is a big loss, but we are actually quite good at that position even without him. Etheridge is a terrific goalie who has all the tools, plus a few more inches in height over Roland. Patrick Deyto has been superb for Global in the AFC Cup. Last Friday at Azkals training Nick O'Donnell made a string of saves in the scrimmage. He is one young keeper that needs to find a starting role in a club, since he is more than capable of handling it. Plus there are others who could be developed, like Jun Badelic, Nelson Gasic, and his backup at JP Voltes Marikina, Felipe Tripulca. The U22 national team pool has prospects like Ace Villanueva and Arjay Joyel too.
Roland exits stage left with Philippine goalkeeping literally and figuratively in good hands.
The livestream signals a milestone for Philippine football. Of course it was unfortunate that the match was not on network television. But the livestream allowed Azkals fans all over the world to enjoy the game anyway.
According to my Twitter feed there were some issues with the stream, like the audio and video not synching, the ambient sound overpowering myself and Cedelf Tupas, and the fact that only one camera was being used. The stream itself also shut off a few times apparently.
But most folks who tweeted me about the stream were able to enjoy it just fine. You can watch the game on the streaming link now.
The streaming platform comes from the AFC. The PFF can use it for any sort of match it deems fit to share.
Rather than grouse about the Azkals just being on streaming, we hope fans appreciate that this could be a big help for the game going forward. Maybe the upcoming PFL, and matches in youth, women's, and school competitions can be streamed with this technology. It can also be leveled up with more cameras and additional bells and whistles. Like all modern technology, it's only getting better and cheaper as time goes on.
In the meantime, let's all spread the word about Tuesday. It's the first big test of the year, and the team needs our support.
Philippines vs Nepal
AFC Asian Cup Qualifier
8:00 pm, Tuesday, March 28
Tickets available at SM Ticket outlets and at the gate for as low as P100
Standby for possible livestream details
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH. – Rappler.com