By Ivan Gayares @ivangeoffrey
The Philippine Azkals fell against Bahrain but there is more to this performance than the 1-2 scoreline suggests. Here are some quick points on the good and the bad for the Philippine Team.
Coach Thomas Dooley’s new system had mixed reviews in its debut for the Azkals. If you are not aware, the formations are: 3-4-3 on offense and 4-5-1 on defense. In the early going, it was evident that the team were still new to the defensive aspect of the formation especially when defending against counter attacks. There was difficulty in quickly transitioning from 3-4-3 to 4-5-1 in the first half which led to some dangerous Bahrain incursions. The second half saw a much improved performance which resulted to timely clearances and saves by the team.
Position-wise, it was good for Patrick Reichelt who is back to his natural position in the wings as he was really effective in his passing and connecting with Phil Younghusband. The 3-4-3 formation allowed the Azkals to play better triangles which led to good chances especially in the second half. The three-man top formation allowed them to cut through spaces in between and around the four defenders at the back and the midfield.
Birthday Celebrant Alvaro Silva shined in the central defense, cleaning up stray balls and chances for Bahrain. His experience of playing in Kuwait made it easier for him to adapt with the Middle Eastern game and anchor the central defense for the new formations. Juani Guirado however still had to adjust to his “wider” role given that the Bahraini attack was very fast from the wings. This left him exposed in some instances in the early going but gaps were covered after some time by Daisuke Sato.
Set Piece Defending
The first goal was a defensive mishap as man-marking was poor in the sequence towards the opening goal. A free kick from the right flank found its way to a player in the far left side who calmly headed back to a center player who then fakes Reichelt giving an open shot to the bottom corner. There were two chances to cover the ball but they were not done properly.
The Azkals need to improve their communication during set pieces as mistakes like this are always taken advantage of by the top-tier teams in the region. Not having Rob Gier in the backline for this game may have had an effect given that he’s the vocal leader at the back, but the Azkals still need to adapt given the situation.
The second goal from Bahrain was also from a free kick but it was struck pretty well that even Germany’s Manuel Neuer would have conceded it.
The ‘UFL’ effect
It was evident in the match that the Azkals have improved because most of our players are playing domestically. The familiarity was evident as there was better passing and understanding between the players which was not seen before. The Ceres-connection in Reichelt, Steuble, and Ott worked wonders as they seem to understand each other better.
It will take more time but the current UFL League and the upcoming Cup competition will further strenghten this understanding even if the players are from opposing clubs.
Need better finishing
There were two telling chances early in the game which would have altered the end result if they were converted. A Phil Younghusband chance which went over the bar and an open shot in front of goal by Reichelt were wasted. Though the Bahraini team also had similar chances in the first half, the Azkals need to improve in these aspects as scoring opportunities like these wont come by often especially against the better teams.
The Azkals may have lost the first game of the year but the promise of an improved tactical approach is good for our buildup towards June. With the return of some players and the entry of young blood, there is a bright future ahead for the Philippines in making a statement in the World Cup qualifiers.