Take a Bow, Azkals

Step forward and take a bow, Azkals. Well deserved and congratulations to everyone in the team for achieving another historic milestone and for providing a great boost to Philippine football. No need to belabor the point of the tough road the Azkals had to take to accomplish this remarkable feat and its significance for the growth of the sport in our country, a lot has already been said about that and Filipino football supporters are quite aware of what all this means.

The battle for bronze was quite a match, nerve-wracking and exhilarating. A 4-3 score line, both teams just went at it and you could see how both sides really wanted to win the match. The first goal for me was one of the best among the goals scored by the team in this campaign. Counter-attacking football at its finest, sprinkled with a bit of individual flair and brilliance by Phil Younghusband. As the Azkals continue with their improvement, it is still likely for now that against stronger teams the Azkals will find it necessary to play conservatively and try to score on the counter. That first goal exemplified the effectiveness of a rapid transition from defense to offense. From just outside our penalty box, Angel Guirado gains possession and feeds it forward to the wing to relieve the pressure and initiate an offensive move. Chieffy gets to the ball and plays it through behind the Palestine defense for Phil Younghusband to break through towards goal. It still needed a moment of magic from Phil as he eluded 3 defenders to squeeze in a shot with his weaker foot, but that’s why Phil is in the team and the deserved winner of the tournament’s Golden Boot. From a defensive situation, it just took 2 quick passes to set up a goal scoring opportunity. Simple, direct and effective, brilliant stuff!

Phil Younghusband opens the scoring for the Philippines. Photo courtesy of goalnepal.com.
Taking that lead in four minutes from such a wonderful move was pretty crucial. I think that helped settle the team and convinced them that they could win this match. This was one of those matches that shows the importance of the mental aspect involved in football. We all know that football isn’t only about skills, physical condition, tactics and strategy, the mental aspect is just as critical too. Focus, belief, confidence, discipline and most of all, heart and determination are game changers by themselves. The match against Tajikistan and Palestine shows how the Azkals have been slowly trying to put all those elements together in their preparations for this tournament. The match against Turkmenistan shows that there is still room for improvement.

Going back to the Palestine match, it was pretty exciting from start to finish. The Dubai training camp and the Malaysia friendly provided an indication that the team was going to focus on achieving and relying on a solid defense as a foundation for its playing style. The approach was going to be conservative and practical. The results of this campaign showed that this was a move in the right direction. Considering that this is still a work in progress (refer to Turkmenistan match), it does make for nervy moments as opponents try to break down our defensive lines. While the team has improved a lot over the months, they are not yet at the point where they can control a match and seal the result. Despite leading 3-1 at the start of the 2nd half, there was no assurance yet that the match was in the bag. The Azkals had to fight and struggle to maintain their lead up to the very last minute, and the Palestinians came close to bringing the match to extra time.

I’m not complaining though, this is all part of the process. What is important is the breakthrough and the relevance of the results and the over-all direction of the efforts being made to achieve these types of results. For one, we are playing with a bit more defensive solidity and our offense managed to score 9 goals in this campaign, with 4 of them in one match. Likewise, the conservative and practical approach has been more effective. I felt that the coaching staff tailored it for the opponents the Azkals would be facing and it paid off. All in all, it has been a very productive campaign for the national team and a validation of the hard work and effort being made in the sport by all those concerned. Keep in mind that the road to this 3rd place in Kathmandu, Nepal started way back in February 9, 2011 at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City. Bagging the bronze at the AFC Challenge Cup is proof that Philippine football and our national team is headed down the right path. So once again, step up and take a bow Azkals.

2012 Moira G Gallaga©