In a humid saturday night in Manila, the Philippine Azkals succumbed to a fighting Burmese side to surrender the 2014 Peace Cup in extra time. Here are my takeaways for the match.
Myanmar deserved to win
The Raddy Abramovich-side came out strong and it paid dividends early on. The Ko ko goal was a thing of beauty as he caught Ronald Muller off his line to score the opening goal. The visitors were disciplined, deliberate, and calculated, something you will see from the previous Singapore sides under the same coach.
The Azkals on the other hand seemed tentative after conceding the opening goal and relied on quick counters and long balls (which I call hail mary plays, more on that later) in their attempt get an equalizer. It seemed that the players were too impatient (and embarrassed) that they forgot what the coach had been preaching since day one. It is also worth nothing that most the attacks went through the left wing only as the right wing/back players were mostly defending in that half.
The second half was a different story as the players became more patient with their build up and attacked from all sides which led to two successive goals to retake the lead. Fatigue however took its toll to the home team as the visitors deservingly scored an equalizer after controlling the last twenty minutes of the match.
Momentum was carried over by Myanmar in extra time as they took advantage of untested right back combination of the Azkals to score the winning goal and break the hearts of the home fans.
Breaking it down
There was also an apparent lack of fitness for the Philippine players which I believe is half of the reason why we lost (the other half is the tactical decision of the players in the first half). The UFL is currently on a break and it seems that the match fitness is not there yet. The upcoming UFL FA league cup should serve its purpose in bringing out players up to speed.
On a tactical level, playing an attack that seemed to be 2-3-3-2 seemed to have its benefits given that the wingbacks had their chances at the field. My chief complaint was that the central attacking midfielder (in Chris Greatwich who was then replaced with Carli) was not really involved in the attack and most if the time were relegated as spectators of the match. We can still improve our defense, who was great btw for 90min, given that we played a new combination during the match.
The Silver Lining(s)
Testing Kenshiro Daniels at right back, Simone Rota on center back (but he does this at a club level), and James Younghusband at striker is a good way to test out new combinations and what seems to me are worst case scenarios. It is always important to try players to give them more confidence and most of all “comfort” in their new positions.
The final was a gauge on how players reacted when their backs were against the wall. They played sloppy, impatient, and relied too much on long balls. This is a good thing as we can identify and correct the problems sooner and not during the tournament itself.
Our sub-par performance could inadvertently be a smokescreen to the full potential of the team. The loss would have surely surely tempered the expectations of Vietnam and Indonesia coming into the tournament which will give us a slight advantage.
What do the Azkals need?
We need a striker. PYH can only do so much and with him being marked all the time won’t help. To be honest, we need Javi Patino, but were not even sure if he will be released by his club Buriram (pronounced as Bulilam) United. In the worst case, we need players from the current core who can step up in the next three months to become an effective striker.
The current Azkals core also needs to play more games together leading to the 2014 Suzuki cup. The chemistry issues were evident as the Ceres players (Reichelt, de Murga, and Ott) seemed to be the odd ones out and playing more competitive games together is the only solution. No amount of friendlies with local clubs can compensate for this.
Tough Lesson for The Home Fans
Watching the assistant coach of Myanmar rubbing their winning goal to our faces was very painful. Watching the visitors celebrate in our home turf hurts a lot more as well. Lets admit it, as a sporting nation, we are weak in organized cheering and jeering for our teams and our opponents. I have observed this from last years FIBA Asia games and to the recent Peace Cups. We should always give our visitors hell every time they visit our country and serenade them with boos and politically correct jeers. I will tackle the organized cheering bit an a future article.