Honors Even Between the Azkals and Tigers

It was a well earned nil-nil draw that the Philippine Azkals got out of their friendly match against the Malaysian Tigers. It was a considerably commendable feat, especially when we take into account the fact that in four previous matches the Philippines played on Malaysian turf it all ended in defeat for our side. The Philippines is definitely no longer the whipping boys of Southeast Asia and the Azkals continue to show marked progress and promise.

The obligation to win this match loomed larger for the hosts. In the last friendly held here in Manila, they brought in a squad that left out some of their top players and they were lucky to equalize and draw the match in the dying minutes after trailing the Philippines Azkals 1-nil for some time. They also complained about the condition of the pitch. Well then, the stage was set for this return edition for the Malaysians to set the record straight.

They were playing on home ground where they hold a formidable record, and had their full complement of starters from their AFF championship squad available. Might I also add that the match officials were also Malaysian. That wouldn’t have been a problem if there weren’t some calls that were…I’d rather not say, though I credit Neil Etheridge and Darren Hartmann for their attempt to be as diplomatic as possible during their TV commentary when they made comment on some of the calls of the referee. The subtlety of the sarcasm was typically English. It might be worthwhile to note too that Dan Palami had a very subtle tweet about the match officials and Coach Weiss was quoted in an article making a comment on the use of officials from the hosting nation for international friendlies.

Photo via interaksyon.com

Anyway, problems with referees and officiating are always part and parcel of football, what matters in the end is sticking that ball into the goal more times than your opponent does. Last night you would think that players from both sides were doing their darned best to miss the goal, the Malaysians especially who had several pretty good chances. But as Chelsea has shown to everyone in the footballing world in their semifinals against Barcelona in the recently concluded UEFA Champions League, you don’t need that many chances at goal if you put away the few chances that you get and your opponent fails to do so.

So while the Malaysian coach and many others may feel that they deserved to win that match given the chances they created, I still say the honors were even that evening because they failed to convert those opportunities. We may have had much fewer chances at goal but if only one of those went in, the resulting victory would have been well deserved. Go ask Chelsea FC, the current UEFA Champions League champions, I’m sure they’ll agree with my point. But as it turns out, no goals were made that evening and as I said, the honors were even.

We had a pretty good squad for that match but were missing several key players – the Younghusbands, Neil Etheridge, Ray Jonsson, Jerry Lucena and Dennis Cagara. One could go on with the “what ifs” had these other players been available, but there is no point to keep dwelling on that matter. This is a challenge our national team faces every time they are going to play, and it is something we just have to learn how to deal with and overcome. Based on last night’s result, it appears that the Azkals coped with that challenge fairly well.

The Malaysians had a nervous start but settled down as the match progressed. Cohesion and teamwork issues continue to hound the Azkals and it manifested itself in this match. No question about individual skill and talent, we got loads of it on the pitch. It’s the matter of putting it together into a system that needs further work. As long as the PFF keeps maximizing the opportunities to arrange matches for the Azkals this objective will eventually be achieved.

Our goalkeeper Roland Muller was definitely man of the match for the Philippines. Stephan Schroeck is on another level entirely, an exciting player to watch. Though still needs to gel and get in sync some more with the rest (or the others need to start getting in sync with him) of the team. One other Azkal that impressed me a lot in this match was Marwin (or was it Marvin) Angeles. His entry into the match brought a positive impact into the game of the Azkals. He even had a crack at goal, narrowly missing it. This is one for the future given his age, shows lots of promise.

Well, that’s one down and there will be plenty of lessons to be learned from this draw against Malaysia and some adjustments to be made for the upcoming matches. There are two more matches up ahead, against Indonesia at Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila on 05 June and against Guam at Panaad stadium in Bacolod City on 12 June. There’s also news of a training camp in August in Chicago, U.S.A.

These are all good developments. The Philippine national football team needs to play as much as it can. I am glad that the PFF and the management of the national team are taking advantage of every opportunity to play as frequently as possible, whether it be friendly matches, training matches or competitions. This draw against Malaysia on their home ground is a validation of that effort. So keep it up Azkals, keep making us proud. We Believe!

2012 June, Moira G Gallaga©