Azkals 2011 Long Teng Cup Stint Reflections

‘Team Objectives’
I felt one objective for playing in this tournament, was to have the chance to beat stronger teams and improve on our FIFA rankings. That did not happen, as we ended up drawing both Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Another objective was perhaps for the Azkals to finally win an international tournament, which they obviously has not done so far. Again, that did not happen, as we came up empty-handed in this tournament.

We did end up as runner-up, but only because of events that was out of our hands. It was more due to luck than anything else, when Hong Kong routed Taiwan instead of the draw or close game that we were expecting. We couldn’t even blowout a lowly team like Macau, only scoring two goals against them when the other teams were beating by larger margins.

One positive thing I CAN say about this stint, was that it enabled us to have “softer” introduction of the U23 players to tough international stints. Whether that will be enough to help them in the coming South East Asian games against very tough U23 teams from other SEA countries is another matter.

At least we got to see new and U23 players in action, and gauge their performance. Most of them had creditable performances, despite the disappointing results of the team.

‘Individual Performances’
Defensively, I think Nickson Leonora, Aly Borromeo, Carli De Murgia, Oliver Poetschke and Roland Mueller did well in the series, once they settled down and found their spots. Jeffrey Christiaens also did very well as Chieffy’s main substitute, showing a lot of energy all over the pitch, a lot of speed, and great ballhandling ability. He definitely could be the next Chieffy Caligdong.

Angel Guirado was fantastic at center midfield, especially defensively. He was intercepting passes, dispossessing opponents, and kept pushing the ball forward. His passes to the flanks were just about fair, though, as some resulting in breakaways, but most ended up long, or to nobody.

Matthew Hartmann I felt did not play well at all in this tournament. He didn’t do too well defensively in the backline against Hong Kong, and when he switched to center midfield against Taiwan, his passes almost always were wide and didn’t create opportunities for the Azkals on offense.

The Younghusband brothers seem off in this series. Phil continued to be a threat, but could only muster a lone goal, while taking a lot of shots. He just didn’t seem to be in sync in this tournament. James was not creating as much opportunities for the Azkals from the right flank at midfield. In fact, I can’t remember a good passing play from him there at all in the series. However, he did make some good stops at Right Back. Perhaps the brothers are feeling the impact of a recent personal tragedy, I hope they can recover soon.

Ian Araneta, who had a hat trick last year against Macau, ended up scoreless in the tournament. With better options now the Azkals, I just don’t think he has the ballhandling ability to be a good striker to create his own shots at an international level. He’s a terror in the local leagues, but not against tough foreign national teams.

Mark Hartmann played only one game, and despite all his bravado on Twitter, wasn’t able to score against a weak Macau team. However, he has shown good passing abilities, handing out assists in both of Chieffy’s goals against Macau. Definitely a promising prospect, he just needs to improve his attittude. He, along with Misagh Bahadoran, I see as possible understudies to Phil Younghusband.

Roel Gener didn’t too well in this tournament, especially against Hong Kong. We were only able to improve defensively in that game when Carli took his place, and Hong Kong ended up with less opportunities on the attack. Perhaps the old dog (37 years old) is on his last legs, and it is good that we have found good replacements for him.

“Colored Card Jason” De Jong picked up a Red card and then a Yellow card in two games. I guess De Jong’s game is not complete without a colored card somewhere. But I really can’t blame him, as that is the price he has had to pay for playing with a lot of intensity on defense. I see him as Aly Borromeo’s understudy, the future main defensive man of the Azkals. He’s young, he’ll eventually learn. I hope.

‘Chieffy’s Breakout’
This tournament turned out to be Chieffy’s breakout tournament, scoring four goals in three matches, two against a tough Hong Kong squad, and another two to salvage a win against Macau.

I first noticed Chieffy’s new-found scoring skills in exhibition games in Bahrain just before the Azkals’ series against Kuwait where he scored a couple of goals. He always had that great speed, great quickness, and excellent ballhandling ability, but what he lacked up until recently was that final ball, that ability to make good shots and score goals.

For some reason, Chieffy has suddenly started scoring goals consistently, so much so, that for 2011, he has had six goals already in twelve games for the Azkals, even better than Phil’s four goals in nine games. Take note that Chieffy scored only one goal in 2010 in FIFA-sanctioned, non-exhibition games.

Which brings me to the question: Since the Azkals are having problems scoring goals consistently, why not bring Chieffy higher up the pitch as a Striker, and relieving him of his part-time defensive duties as a Left Winger? I think that will give him even more focus on offense, and less wear and tear, as it will also mean he will not have to spend more energy running up and down from box to box.

Of course one problem there, would be that Chieffy is a bit small in terms of height and build, and could be pushed around by the bigger defenders if they catch him, that’s why you’d want your strikers to have good build also as much as possible. So it may be better for him to come in as support rather than the main man on offense.

Perhaps he had pushed himself to improve, now that the Azkals have become very popular. I do notice he is now playing with a lot of intensity, a lot of fire in his eyes, a lot of aggressiveness and persistence. Whatever it is, I think Chieffy is now peaking as an athlete, he is now at his best form as a Football player, and it will likely stay that way for perhaps 2-3 more years, barring any major injuries.

And I don’t think Chieffy’s finished scoring goals yet this year, with at least two more major games this month. Expect him to pick up some more goals, and continue to be the team’s new spiritual leader, and the new star of the team.

‘Coach Michael Weiss’
I continue to be unimpressed with Michael Weiss. His substitution patterns has improved a bit, but he continued to be quite conservative in that game against Taiwan. He has been unable to address the Azkals lack of cohesion and fluidity on offense. I thought we should’ve given him the benefit of the doubt early this year, but nine months later, still no improvement with the team in that regard.

He is trumpeting that he will finally have a “complete” Azkals team against Nepal and Singapore, let’s see what he can do with such a team. Or perhaps he will again blame the lack of preparation as a team if it does not deliver.

‘Future Games’
I am worried about the coming games against Nepal and Singapore, since they are the stronger teams on paper. Despite the fact that ABS-CBN is selling the games using the fact that the Azkals will be in “Full Strength”, I am worried that the team might disappoint again.

Under Weiss in 2011, everytime we go against a team that is ranked higher than us in FIFA, we either drew (Myanmar, Hong Kong, Taiwan), or lost (Kuwait). These two friendly games is perhaps the Azkals’ last chance this year to improve its rankings, and also prove that the win over Vietnam was not a fluke, that the Azkals indeed are for real.

The team has problems scoring fluidly from passing plays, and may again need to rely on individual effort on offense to get those goals. If this were Basketball, it means the team relies more on one-on-one plays, rather than good passing plays.

With great individual players in Schrock and Cagara in there, there is a real possibility the team will win. However, if our opponents realize and finds a way to shut that down, then we will again have problems.

‘Suggestions’
IMHO, I think one adjustment the team could do, is put faster and quicker players at Forward. I noticed that our crosses and passing are not really that good, sometimes it is short, but most of the time it is long. And when the ball goes long, we don’t have the players to go after them and try to make something out of it.

Phil and Angel have good build, are excellent ball handlers, and in the case of Phil, a sharpshooter from even outside the box. But they are not very fast, certainly not as fast as some of our smaller players. Perhaps they would be better off at Midfield, where they can concentrate on defense/passing/build up plays. Guirado seems to excel there the last time I saw him.

At Forward, you could get faster players like Chieffy and Schrock in there. Ian is fast, but I don’t think he has the ballhandling skills to retain (much more attack with) the ball when he is in the box and against multiple defenders. The Azkals might also consider Jeff Christiaens and Misagh Bahadoran for that role.

Jeff has the speed, quickness and ballhandling of Chieffy, but since he is young he might not have the ability to hit the final ball yet. Misagh is used by Dan Palami as a target for those breakaway runs with Global, the last time I saw him with the Azkals, so he is familiar with that role.

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