Thoughts on the Kia Rio Cup

On 21 January 2012, a charity match for the benefit of the victims of typhoon “Sendong” was held at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium featuring the Azkals United selection versus Icheon Citizen, a third division team from South Korea. Third division football in South Korea is an amateur league, but given the quality of football in South Korea, Icheon Citizen was expected to provide a competitive challenge for the Azkals United selection.
Aside from the laudable objective of holding this match to help raise funds to help those who suffered from the disaster wrought by typhoon “Sendong” down in the south, this was also a good opportunity to get local based players much needed exposure against a competitive team. Given that, this wasn’t an official FIFA sanctioned match and club football season for our foreign-based players was in full swing, this means the Philippines needed to rely on our local based players. The local flavor of our team for this match was a good chance for us to check out the other promising talents we have available, an opportunity for these players to test themselves, and for the fans to see how the quality of our local game is in comparison to our neighbors in the region.

An interesting issue cropped up in the run-up to this match in that there was a scheduling conflict between this match and scheduled matches of clubs in our very own United Football League (UFL). This meant that a number of the local based Azkals who had club commitments on that weekend weren’t going to be able to play in the match. Hopefully, lessons were learned in this situation to avoid such issues in the future. Football is on the rise here in the Philippines and it is imperative that everyone in the football community here are all pulling in the same direction. We need to make sure our local league such as the UFL gets to grow as it is an important component in the development of Philippine football, and likewise, every opportunity to conduct competitive matches against a variety of opponents must be maximized. Our leaders in the football community should strive to ensure that the pursuit of both these objectives is harmonized.

As a result, one could say the Azkals United selection for this particular match was a bit makeshift and not exactly the strongest available locally. However, it was a good mix of regular Azkals, former Azkals, UFL standouts and youth players. In terms of using this match as a gauge on how our local game stacks up to foreign competition, it would be an accurate barometer for assessing the quality and level of domestic football.

Match-day, there was a decent crowd in the stadium that slowly grew in numbers as the match progressed. It was nice to see that the Korean community in the Philippines was well represented in the stadium too, to cheer for their compatriots. For a charity match, there was a nice atmosphere and the crowd was quite engaged with the match as well.

As for the match itself, it was exciting and close. It was a somewhat physical game in my opinion and it was evident that the Korean players were in good shape and played a direct game. I think it was a good test for our players, who did fairly well to make the match competitive. In terms of quality, I’d give a slight upper hand to the Koreans but Azkals United showed dogged (pun intended) determination and spirit, and the 1 – 1 draw was well deserved. A dramatic last minute equalizer by one of our U23 players who came into the match as a substitute, Marwin Angeles, capped off a brave performance by the lads.

We eventually lost in the penalty shoot-out, but then again, I count shoot-outs as a lottery. It can go either way, and at this point, it is more about nerves and composure than skill. The positive thing is that during the 90 minutes of team play, Azkals United showed that they could mix it up with a third division Korean football club. For some, the result may have been disappointing, but keep in mind that this was a makeshift team, and the performance should be viewed more in terms of the level of our domestic game as opposed to that of our senior national team. Senior national men’s team coach Michael Weiss was quite satisfied with the performance of the players and the team.

One couldn’t say that it was an optimal performance over-all as there were several areas of improvement evident. Our offense wasn’t very fluid in the early stages of the match, the Koreans had more or less a slight edge in the midfield battle and it took a while for the team to raise the quality of their game. Still, as Coach Weiss noted, there were several positives to take out of that match.

Denis Wolf is a very promising prospect, his skill and quality was obvious (not to mention another poster boy. I love players with great skill and who are swoon worthy at the same time. You have to bear with me on that). If his finishing were more clinical, the result of that match would have been in our favor. Nonetheless, if he’s available for the AFC Challenge Cup he’s worth considering for a spot in the senior Azkals squad.

Angel Guirado lasted a full match, though he still isn’t up to his best form yet. Needs more work on his fitness or still troubled by recurring injuries? With the UFL season underway and the training camp in the Middle East, perhaps he will be back to his best in time for the AFC Challenge Cup. This is not to say that he isn’t an effective player now. He had a few sublime touches on the ball during the match and the numerous occasions he’s been swarmed by the Korean players whenever he has the ball shows that he’s still considered as a major threat by opposing teams.

Chieffy still proves to one and all that he continues to be a vital player for the Azkals. His speed, technical ability with the ball and experience are valuable assets to the Azkals offense. He can always be counted upon to create chances for himself or his team mates.

Misagh finally got to show what he’s capable of, had a number of good runs, industrious off the ball, a few chances at goal and capped off a good performance with an assist for the equalizing goal. 

Youngsters such as Carli De Murga, Jerry Barbosa and Marwin Angeles continue to exhibit potential and promise. This match will only serve to further prove them and add to their playing experience and maturity. Of course, we shouldn’t forget the veterans from the Army and the Air Force who also played their part through solid performances.  
All in all, it was a productive endeavor and an entertaining match. It helped raise money for the typhoon victims and showed that there is more to football than being just a game. This match also provided several of our local players a chance to test themselves against some credible opposition and an opportunity for us supporters to see where we stand in the football landscape in the region.

There is still obviously quite a lot of work to be done by the Philippine football community, but it is safe to say that positive steps are being made in relation to the development and growth of Philippine football. We need to keep this momentum going and take every opportunity to support the beautiful game in our country.

2012 Moira G Gallaga©

P.S. I usually don't have photos as my husband always gets so passionately involved with the game. He has the camera but he's more busy barracking the ref and the other team to actually take a few photos. :)