Philippine Football Peace Cup Champions: AZKALS

Congratulations to the Philippine Azkals for winning the Philippine Football Peace Cup. Another milestone and a step forward for Philippine football. While the Azkals were overwhelming favorites for this tournament, they still needed to prove that point nonetheless and they did so emphatically and convincingly.

Three wins, 9 goals scored in 3 matches and conceding only one goal was quite a strong message sent out by our team. It wasn't just about winning their matches; it was also about the manner in which they were won - with near total dominance. It was a joy to watch our team play that way. Okay, the fluffed chances in front of goal, especially in the match against Guam, was a bit frustrating at times. However, the way our midfield controlled the match, dictated the tempo and ensured that our makeshift backline wasn't troubled too much was a welcome change from our usual backs to the wall and spirited style of play. It's a sign of progress and it was vital that this point was made.

While many among us will be savoring this victory and achievement, there are unfortunately those who claim all this is irrelevant due to the low quality of the opposition. Yet that is where the emphatic and dominating performance of our team smashes that argument. Since when has the Philippine national football team dominated and steamrollered opponents in those manner? The Azkals were expected to win this tournament, and they did. In addition to meeting that expectation, they also proved clearly that the progress and achievements since 2010 is not a fluke. 

Notwithstanding the low quality opposition, a look at our team will also show that this was more of a "B" team. Many of our pedigreed players from Europe weren't present, along with a number of veterans. Our defense was makeshift, with only one regular center back who was suffering from a groin injury and didn't even get to play in the crucial final match. Several young players, with emphasis on young, got their first official cap in this tournament. Yet the team acquitted themselves very well and showed how deep our bench has become and that there is quality back-up available if the regular veterans are not available.

Photo via interaksyon.com
No, the naysayers can't take away the satisfaction this victory has given us Pinoy football fans. Also, this wasn't just about the feel-good factor of being champions and preparations for a much bigger prize, the AFF Suzuki Cup. This was also about the future. A number of the young players who shone in this tournament will be crucial in helping sustain the progress Philippine football is making, in battling for our flag and colors in campaigns to come. 

Of course, they have yet to be tested against tougher opponents and that's what the Bahrain training camp and the matches against Bahrain, Kuwait and Singapore are for, to toughen them up and prepare them for the much more difficult opponents they'll be facing in the Suzuki Cup. 

In the meantime, let's all enjoy this moment and thank you Philippine Azkals. We are the Peace Cup Champions! Campeones, campeones! Oe! Oe! Oe!

30 September 2012, Moira G Gallaga©



As part for the preparations of the upcoming AFF 2012 Suzuki Cup tournament, the Philippine Men’s National Football Team also known as the Azkals engaged in a series of friendlies away from home against Cambodia, Singapore and Laos from 5-10 September 2012.

A scoreless draw against Cambodia, a historic win 0-2 wins against Singapore and a 2-1 loss to Laos. Notwithstanding the fantastic win versus Singapore, I’d hate to say that this was a disappointing campaign. I don’t think I’m the only one around saying we should have done better. True, these are essentially practice matches in preparation for the main objective (Suzuki Cup) and a whole lot of lessons were probably learned, but the team could have definitely done a whole lot better. I’m sure the coaching staff and the players know and feel that way as well.

It is interesting to note that the Azkals’ victory was in the match where they were the acknowledged underdogs, and they played really well in that match. Special mention goes to Stephan Schroeck who was a cut above everyone else. Yet in the matches where they were favored to win, they drew one and lost the other. While the Cambodia match was disappointing, it wasn’t that bad compared to the Laos match as the Azkals were very much in control of the match. It was a matter of lousy finishing and missed chances. Against Laos, they let the gamesmanship and bad calls get to them in addition to failing to take control of the match and dominate. Despite the dodgy stuff, the Laotians played fairly well and made things difficult for the Azkals in contrast to the Cambodians.

Photo via interaksyon.com
As there is no point in crying over spilled milk, we might as well dwell on the lessons and points this series of friendlies have highlighted. There’s a number of them, and whether you may agree with me or not, here’s what I think:

·         The Younghusband and Guirado brothers continue to be important members of the national team. Given their contribution at the recent AFC Challenge Cup, one wonders how these friendlies would have turned out if the Guirado brothers were available to play. The absence of the Younghusband brothers in the Laos match and their contribution in the Singapore victory clearly points out how valuable they are to the team.

·      Denis Wolf and Patrick Reichelt provide added depth to the team’s offensive options. This is good to have, especially in tournaments where a series of matches are played within a few days. Depth of the squad and ability to bring in fresh players without sacrificing the quality on the pitch are among the keys to success. However, they need to work on their finishing. The team needs to be more efficient in front of goal.

·         Stephan Shroeck is a game changer, top class and excellent quality. Problem is, will he be available during the Suzuki Cup?

·    Chieffy is slowly finding form and hopefully the big number of matches lined up before the Suzuki Cup should help him be at his best when the tournament starts.

·         Our defense is shallow and aging. Juani Guirado and Dennis Cagara are needed to provide added depth to our defensive options. While Aly Borromeo is on the mend, it will take a while for him to get back to his previous imperious form. I have my doubts if he will be fully ready when the Suzuki Cup starts. He may be fit to play by then but probably won’t be 100% in terms of the quality we expect from him.

·         Converting Jeffrey Christaens into a left back appears to be promising. However, this is for the long term as more time and experience will be needed for Christaens to grow into this new role. For the Suzuki Cup, I’d like to see Ray Jonsson and Dennis Cagara cover this spot.

·   As shown by the Laos match, the Azkals need to learn how to deal with efforts of their opponent to get into their heads. They are no longer underdogs now and weaker teams will likely try to disrupt the Azkals’ game and cause them to lose their composure in the match to even things up a bit on the pitch.

I’m sure there are more points and lessons from this ASEAN Tour but the ones above are what stick out prominently for me. The upcoming Peace Cup this month will be another good opportunity for the Azkals to get ready for the Suzuki Cup. I hope they do better on that tournament than they did in their ASEAN Tour.

10 September 2012, Moira G Gallaga©