After a convincing 2-nil victory over the 2011
South Asian champions and 2008 AFC Challenge Cup champions India, the Philippine
Men's National Football Team, the Azkals, have kept their hopes for reaching
the semis alive.
Following a defeat to North Korea, the Azkals
needed to win against India. This they were able to do without too much
trouble. India had its moments, but one can reasonable say that the Philippines
were more or less in control of that match. The changes made by Coach Weiss in
the midfield paid off, and Phil Younghusband put away two of his chances. The
first goal was shades of the goal against Malaysia on the 29 February. That
long throw-in by Sabio has provided an added dimension to our offensive
options. All in all, it was a pretty good and exciting match, with the victory
making it that much sweeter.
The victory has set up a "winner take
all" match against previous AFC Challenge Cup champion (2006) Tajikistan.
An interesting development is that because of the respective score lines of
both teams in their respective matches with the other teams in this group of
death, a draw would result to a penalty shootout.
Destiny awaits the Philippine Azkals. Their fate
in this tournament, and a shot at another historic milestone and achievement,
is within their grasp and fully in their own hands.
Aside from providing the Azkals an opportunity of
getting to the semis, the victory over India also brings renewed confidence to
the team and the players. The victory and the opportunity for further glory is
a good boost to team morale and the players will be raring to take on
Tajikistan. The last time the Philippines and Tajikistan tangled it ended in a
draw. This is a very different Philippine team now, and while the Tajiks
shouldn't be taken lightly, the Azkals have a pretty good chance to pull off an
It gets tempting to get carried away now that we
see that we have a foot by the door (the Tajiks too, by the way), but I believe
there is cause for optimism. There is a bit more composure in the way the
Azkals have been playing lately, and the defense has been proving solid. As the
underdogs in this tournament, such improvements in those particular areas have
become very vital to their current progress in this tournament. Conservative,
smart and focus should be the buzzwords in this upcoming match. We cannot
discount of course the burden and pressure of expectation, now that destiny is
just around the corner. They cannot afford to be anxious and nervous about this
match. They should approach this match with the attitude that they have
everything to gain and nothing to lose. In my opinion, the mental aspect
of football will be the determining factor in this upcoming match. Though by
the looks of the team, from their training matches in the Middle East, the
friendly against Malaysia and their first two matches in this tournament, it
appears they have what it takes to stay focused on the task at hand and
effectively deal with the pressure of the occasion.
Another cause for optimism is Coach Weiss. He has
taken a more pragmatic and conservative approach to matches. The team is now
more organized and compact, resulting to more stability at the back. Quite a
change from the swashbuckling offensive game the Coach was initially trying to
develop for the team. That worked against teams of lesser quality, but
definitely not against that way ahead of us in terms of ability and team
chemistry. This new approach and emphasis in our playing style has obviously
served the team well so far in this tournament. Additionally, Coach Weiss
has also been utilizing his subs more. He has previously been taken to task to
use subs sparingly. He may have his reasons then, but lately we've seen that he
has been making use of the bench more effectively.
So there we have it. The Philippines is on the
edge of achieving another footballing milestone. Destiny awaits! It is there
for the taking and the chances of doing so look promising. As we all dwell on
this and what this all means, let us also not forget to consider how far this
team and Philippine football has come in so short a time.