Home and Away: Azkals vs Indonesia

It was supposed to be a friendly but one couldn't be faulted for thinking there was a lot more at stake. A bench clearing fracas and 3 red cards surely added to the passion and tension on the field of play. Well, considering that pride was at stake and both sides had points to prove, that alone ups the ante considerably. A rivalry in the making perhaps? I wouldn't mind at all, because to be embroiled in a football rivalry is a sign that our national team is being taken seriously by its opponent.

In the end, the Philippine - Indonesia match ended in a 2-2 draw. For us, this was supposed to be the payback for the home game we never had against the Indonesians at the semifinals of the 2010 Suzuki Cup, though it wasn't the Indonesia's fault our team had to face a hostile environment twice. You can thank the previous regime at the PFF for that debacle. Indonesia beat us on both legs 1-0 and the "what if we had one leg of that semi played at home" has been foremost on most minds of Filipino football supporters. The Tuesday night clash against Indonesia at home was expected to provide an answer, some form of closure to that lingering question out of the recent past. Never mind that our national team, the Azkals, have come a long way from then, achieved historical milestones for Philippine football and improved considerably over a short period of time. Never mind if the current teams are so different from the ones that clashed 2 years ago. No, this was a time of reckoning for the Philippines, payback of some sort.

Indonesia on the other hand had more current concerns and a much different point to prove coming into this clash. That Suzuki Cup semis 2 years ago for them was likely a thing of the past. They have bigger problems" at the moment. They run the risk of missing out on the 2012 Suzuki Cup this year due to off-field problems that could find their Federation suspended from international competitions. Problems brought about by a rift in their domestic league has spilled over and affected their national team. As a result, they have a very young squad and one very much different that lost to Malaysia at the Suzuki Cup finals 2 years ago. You wouldn't be too far off if you described the Indonesian football situation as one in turmoil. For the Indonesians, this match was about making a statement that they are still in contention that they are still among Southeast Asia's (pardon the pun) top dogs despite their off-field problems.

Photo via interaksyon.com

So the stage was set, 2 teams out to make a statement. A strong and vastly improved Philippine team with almost all key players available, facing a slightly young and inexperienced Indonesian side. The script for this dramatic clash was calling for a victory for the Philippine side; all the elements were in place for such a result. Well, that's football for you and the beauty of this game, it doesn't follow scripts. This game loves to throw monkey wrenches into well laid out plans and scenarios, and whether we know it or not, is most probably the reason why we all love this game so much.

As it turned out, our Azkals had to fight back and display that dogged (this time pun intended) determination once again to equalize twice to come out with a draw for this match. What was hoped to be a moment of glory turned out to be a sigh of relief. We could have won this match, we should have but we didn't. A Philippine victory over Indonesia in football will have to wait until the next opportunity we face them.

Disappointing, perhaps yes because our team were clearly dominant this time, had better percentage of ball possession and more numerous and better chances at goal. Wait, the Philippines dominated and controlled most of the match had more shots at goal and greater ball possession against Indonesia? Well, that's new. Not only that, our Coach fiddled around with the line-up and had 4 starters on the bench for the first half and put in 2 young kids (Ott and Angeles) in charge of holding central midfield.

People would say that it was weak Indonesia team, yet they led twice and we needed to grab a draw to salvage some pride. Well, that's exactly the point because I saw the match as a reversal of roles. For a change, we see the Azkals playing as the more dominant team against Indonesia who, strangely enough, were playing the way the Azkals do when faced with superior opponents. Indonesia were playing in a way you would expect an away team to play, cautious, defensive and waiting for an opportunity to take their chances on a counter-attack especially if the home team is effectively controlling the match. Sounds and looks familiar? Well yes, because the Azkals minus 3 key players were playing the same way away to a full strength Malaysia side in Kuala Lumpur just a few days before the match with Indonesia. I just love the irony in that, es futbol. The only difference in the 2-2 draw with Indonesia is that they made their few chances at goal count, 2 out of 4 to our 2 out of 10 shots at goal. In the Malaysia match, both sides failed to make any of their attempts to score count.

Some people will feel that it is the score line that matters. True to some extent, but this was a friendly. Heck, even in competitions, not even the better team wins. Ask Barcelona FC about their UEFA Champions League semifinal clash with eventual champions Chelsea and I'm sure they will agree with that point. I think the bigger picture we need to see from this match against Indonesia was that we were the better team in this match. Of course, there's still a lot of room for improvement and lots of work to do, but at the least this match also showed everyone what the Azkals are capable of on the pitch and how much they have progressed in just 2 years time. Need proof, just look at how the Indonesians played against our team. The Indonesians played like the underdog in this match, they did so because they knew coming into this match that the Azkals were the better team even if they wouldn't directly say so in public. Their actions on the pitch reveal more than their words and clearly manifest that point. Now tell me if that isn't a sign of respect from a country who over the decades has consistently beaten our football teams 18 times out of 20 occasions including this most recent match. The other 2 matches were draws.

Well, we came close this time around. We were literally inches away (e.g. Angel's header that hit the crossbar) from a victory over Indonesia. In my opinion, that ain't too bad at all. There will be other occasions in the future, both at home or even away, and you can be sure that Indonesia won't be taking our team lightly anymore. 

2012 Moira G Gallaga©