Azkals vs. Nepal, October 11, 2011

Below are my notes for the Azkals-Nepal International Friendly game as aired on Studio 23 on Tuesday, October 11, 2011, starting at 7:00 pm.

‘Prologue’
After that loss to Singapore, I am wary about this game against Nepal. Perhaps playing on home turf will be enough for the team to consistently find that Final Ball.

This game is the last chance for the main Azkals team to beat (not draw, or lose) to a higher FIFA-ranked team. The next opportunity will probably occur in a couple of months, sometime early next year. It is also the last game of the Azkals this year. After this game, you will only see the Azkals with their respective UFL teams until 2012.

‘The Gorkhalis’
Nepal is ranked a step higher than Singapore, which means more bad news for the Azkals. I think they are here mainly on a probing mission, to gauge the Azkals’ strengths and weaknesses. They probably think that knowing the Azkals now will give them an advantage when we play on THEIR home pitch next year.

The Gorkhalis (as they are known), are a team on the rise, rising 35 points in the FIFA rankings in a space of only seven months, from number 172 in March 2011, to its current position of number 135. This year, they lost to North Korea (an Asian Superpower in Football) by only one goal, and was able to draw with Jordan on their home pitch (though they did lose to the Jordanians 9-0 on the away game). So I expect this to be a tough game for the Azkals.

Football also seems to be really big in Nepal, with the website GoalNepal.com keeping tracks of the team’s every move. The Gorkhalis are on an ASEAN Region Tour, where aside from the Azkals, they are also playing against Cambodia, Malaysia’s U23 team, before wrapping the tour up with a game against Thailand.

‘Ticket-Selling Probems’
The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) seem to be having trouble selling tickets for the Azkals-Nepal home game, as I see a lot of Azkals, PFF and other Football personalities trying to promote it on Twitter. That could be due to a number of reasons: First, most people had an unpleasant experience getting tickets during the last home game against Kuwait, lining up early only to be disappointed when the tickets quickly ran out. They probably still has that on the back of their minds when thinking of watching this game;

Second, Nepal is not a well-known country by most Filipinos. Admittedly, even I don’t know much about it, except for the fact that its one of the countries that has access to the Himalayan mountains; Third, the game is not part of a tournament, it’s just an international friendly game, so the objective of playing against this team is not so prestigious.

And fourth, perhaps the Azkals inability to win recently has finally caught up with the popularity of the team. Some say because it is held on a week-day, hence the slow sales, but the Kuwait home game was also on a week-day, and it sold out fast. Whatever it is, it is a big blow to the popularity, and will probably have an effect on considerations for the next home game. Perhaps it is time for the next Azkals game to be done again in the Visayas, where the team and the sport’s popularity continues to be at a higher level.

‘Pre-Game’
Azkals Starting Eleven: (Goalkeeper) Neil Etheridge; (Backline) Aly Borromeo, Dennis Cagara, Ray Jonsson, Jerry Lucena; (Midfield) Paul Mulders, Jason De Jong, James Younghusband, Chieffy Caligdong; (Forward) Phil Younghusband, Ian Araneta.

Almost all of the foreign-based Azkals doesn’t seem to know the lyrics of the Lupang Hinirang. That’s Cagara, Jonsson, Lucena, Etheridge and De Jong. Mulders surprisingly was singing along. Some fans are wearing some nice “doggie” hats, so apt in support of the Azkals.

Attendance not so good, the Rizal memorial only about less than half filled. If the RMS holds 13k people, then perhaps only around 5k people in the venue.

‘First Half’
Unimpressive play by the Gorkhalis on the pitch in the first four minutes. I thought they would be the faster team in the pitch, but they actually are not. About two good thru balls for the Azkals, but Ian and PYH just not fast enough to go after those balls.

Not enough Azkals on the Gorkhali box for those crosses, they need to rectify that. This early, I think it’s not a question of who will dominate possession (the Azkals), but will the Azkals find that final ball consistently?

Talking about final ball, Chieffy misses an OPEN SHOT from inside the Gorkhali box in the ninth minute, it goes over the cross bar.

Near goal by the Gorkhalis off a Free Kick in the 11th minute. The ball bounces off Neil’s hands, and the Gorkhalis just a tad slow in going after the second effort.

Azkals playing very confidently in the first 14th minutes of the game, leaving only two defenders in the back. Gorkhalis had at least two good runs, but both times unable to have good attempts to the basket.

Goal by PYH in the 17th minute off an interception, and then a pass by Mulders that resulted in a breakaway.

Foul off PYH in the 27th minute off a breakaway, he couldn’t outrun his defender thus he needed to push him down to breakaway.

Goal number two for the Azkals by JYH in the 29th minute off a shot near the center from just outside the box. Nice fake for a kick, then dribbled right before taking the shot.

Mulders with a ballhandling exhibition in the 45th minute, evading three defenders one after the other at the center of the field.

‘First Half Summary’
Unimpressive play by the Gorkhalis in the first half. This team is definitely no way on the same level as the Singapore Lions, which seems to support the fact that the current FIFA ranking system is really messed up. How the heck could a team like this be 31 places higher than us?

The Gorkhalis playing flat, though, with not much intensity. It doesn’t look like they deserve to be in the same pitch as the Azkals in terms of intensity and skill. Or are they just playing possum, ready to pounce on our overconfidence when we play them at their home pitch next year? Maybe they will come out with their true game in the second half, to sort of truly gauge how they are against us.

With us two goals ahead, I think Weiss should send in the bench in the second half, give some of them a chance to play and possibly score a goal. Might be a good idea to sit down Chieffy, for example, as he might still be having some pain in that hamstring. Then again, this is the last game of the Azkals for the season.

The Azkals still looks very inefficient, though, needing so many attempts before they can score a goal.

‘Second Half’
Surprise, surprise. I looked at the stands again in the second half, and the RMS is almost full!!! Probably the traffic delayed the fans from coming in. Also perhaps the bulk of them were coming straight from work.

Nepal sending three players in the second half. I expect Nepal to go full blast in the second half if they were playing possum, perhaps to test themselves against the Azkals thoroughly.

Chieffy goes down on the 54th minute off a challenge in the center just outside the box, ends up clutching his shin, then walks away limping.

Goal number three for the Azkals by PYH in the 55th minute off a shot inside the box from the right side.

60th minute mark passes, and bull-headed Weiss still hasn’t sent anybody else in yet. That German continues to be stubborn when it comes to substitutions.

Near goal by Nepal in the 62nd minute from a shot from the center just outside the box, deflected by Neil to the top of the crossbar.

Well, maybe Weiss heard me, and sent in Gier in the 65th minute. He still needs to send more players, though. We’re up 3-0, AT HOME, for gad’s sake.

PYH just misses a hat trick in the 68th minute when his shot from the right sails just inches off the left post.

Matthew Hartmann comes in on the 77th minute. Chieffy also goes out on a stretcher, probably due to cramps, or that hamstring injury.

Misagh Bahadoran comes in on the 78th minute. Weiss’ substitutions are really late, he should give his players AT LEAST 30 minutes of play. So if he is going to substitute, do it around the 60th minute mark, like the rest of the world.

Lexton Moy comes in on the 85th minute.

Matthew Hartmann scores the Azkals’ fourth goal of the game in the 89th minute off a good assist from PYH. Shot taken from the center from outside the box.

‘Game Summary’
In the post-game interview, Weiss was saying as if this win was a vindication of the Azkals of sorts for their mediocre showing against higher ranking teams. The Azkals certainly did not do anything different or better against this team, its just that the other team was too inferior in terms of skill, talent and motivation. This victory in no way reflects how we will do against the much tougher South East Asian teams in the region.

This game also finally convinces me that the FIFA rankings is indeed, DEEPLY FLAWED. Its a crime to let this team be ahead of us in rankings, let alone WAY ahead of us. It should be the other way around. Their ranking is a fluke, and seems to have been padded by the fact that they normally play in a different region than us. We, on the other hand, play in a tougher region, with tougher opponents, hence it seems our rankings are padded down.

I thought the Nepalese would give us a better fight in the second half, but despite all the changes, the Nepalese still looked VERY mediocre there next to the Azkals. The Nepalese are just so lucky there are not playing in the South East Asian (SEA) region. If they were, they would end up being the whipping boys. Their team is nowhere near the class of most of the better teams in SEA.

It’s hard to gauge who the best players for the Azkals were, because they all just looked so good out there on the pitch against this Nepalese team. The Gorkhalis were easily dispossessed again and again by our players, for example, so much so, they rarely could mount a good attempt against us. Aside from Mulders, Cagara also showed some fine dribbling ability out there on the pitch.

Azkals go out with a bang for the 2011 season, thanks to the Nepalese. That should teach them a lesson on tangling with us again, especially at our home pitch. They’re now all probably thinking, “perhaps it was a mistake for us to come here”. LOL. I doubt it if we will see them again anytime soon on a friendly here in the Philippines.

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