As part for the preparations of the upcoming AFF 2012 Suzuki Cup tournament, the Philippine Men’s National Football Team also known as the Azkals engaged in a series of friendlies away from home against Cambodia, Singapore and Laos from 5-10 September 2012.

A scoreless draw against Cambodia, a historic win 0-2 wins against Singapore and a 2-1 loss to Laos. Notwithstanding the fantastic win versus Singapore, I’d hate to say that this was a disappointing campaign. I don’t think I’m the only one around saying we should have done better. True, these are essentially practice matches in preparation for the main objective (Suzuki Cup) and a whole lot of lessons were probably learned, but the team could have definitely done a whole lot better. I’m sure the coaching staff and the players know and feel that way as well.

It is interesting to note that the Azkals’ victory was in the match where they were the acknowledged underdogs, and they played really well in that match. Special mention goes to Stephan Schroeck who was a cut above everyone else. Yet in the matches where they were favored to win, they drew one and lost the other. While the Cambodia match was disappointing, it wasn’t that bad compared to the Laos match as the Azkals were very much in control of the match. It was a matter of lousy finishing and missed chances. Against Laos, they let the gamesmanship and bad calls get to them in addition to failing to take control of the match and dominate. Despite the dodgy stuff, the Laotians played fairly well and made things difficult for the Azkals in contrast to the Cambodians.

Photo via interaksyon.com
As there is no point in crying over spilled milk, we might as well dwell on the lessons and points this series of friendlies have highlighted. There’s a number of them, and whether you may agree with me or not, here’s what I think:

·         The Younghusband and Guirado brothers continue to be important members of the national team. Given their contribution at the recent AFC Challenge Cup, one wonders how these friendlies would have turned out if the Guirado brothers were available to play. The absence of the Younghusband brothers in the Laos match and their contribution in the Singapore victory clearly points out how valuable they are to the team.

·      Denis Wolf and Patrick Reichelt provide added depth to the team’s offensive options. This is good to have, especially in tournaments where a series of matches are played within a few days. Depth of the squad and ability to bring in fresh players without sacrificing the quality on the pitch are among the keys to success. However, they need to work on their finishing. The team needs to be more efficient in front of goal.

·         Stephan Shroeck is a game changer, top class and excellent quality. Problem is, will he be available during the Suzuki Cup?

·    Chieffy is slowly finding form and hopefully the big number of matches lined up before the Suzuki Cup should help him be at his best when the tournament starts.

·         Our defense is shallow and aging. Juani Guirado and Dennis Cagara are needed to provide added depth to our defensive options. While Aly Borromeo is on the mend, it will take a while for him to get back to his previous imperious form. I have my doubts if he will be fully ready when the Suzuki Cup starts. He may be fit to play by then but probably won’t be 100% in terms of the quality we expect from him.

·         Converting Jeffrey Christaens into a left back appears to be promising. However, this is for the long term as more time and experience will be needed for Christaens to grow into this new role. For the Suzuki Cup, I’d like to see Ray Jonsson and Dennis Cagara cover this spot.

·   As shown by the Laos match, the Azkals need to learn how to deal with efforts of their opponent to get into their heads. They are no longer underdogs now and weaker teams will likely try to disrupt the Azkals’ game and cause them to lose their composure in the match to even things up a bit on the pitch.

I’m sure there are more points and lessons from this ASEAN Tour but the ones above are what stick out prominently for me. The upcoming Peace Cup this month will be another good opportunity for the Azkals to get ready for the Suzuki Cup. I hope they do better on that tournament than they did in their ASEAN Tour.

10 September 2012, Moira G Gallaga©