U23 Azkals 2011 SEAG Stint: First Two Disastrous Games

‘U23 Azkals Lose to Vietnam, 3-1’
Although the goal difference was not more than three goals as per my expectations, it was still a very painful game to watch. The Vietnamese were virtually just TOYING against the U23 Azkals, especially in the second half, when they were behind by a goal. Individually they were just so impressive with their ballhandling. We couldn’t dispossess them enough, and they consistently dispossessed us. As a team, the way they built up and launched their attacks thru excellent passing, they were simply way better than our team. The way they displayed their class was just jaw droppingly impressive.

The only reason the score was close, was due to a number of reasons: First would be the relative inexperience of the Vietnamese with their final ball, missing some shots that would’ve otherwise been sure goals. Second would be THANK GOD FOR ROLAND MUELLER. He makes one forget Neil Etheridge, as in, “Neil Etheridge who?” Despite the fact that he conceded three goals in the game, he saved more. A LOT MORE. And they were difficult, fantastic saves, really near goals were it not for the Goalkeeper. Had Mueller been anything less, we would’ve been buried deep in goals.

Third would be the hustle of defense of our backline. They did have more lapses than saves, but those interceptions and dispossessions were what otherwise would’ve been sure goals. The only problem was there was just too many good attempts on the net and they just couldn’t keep them all out. Which goes to show the folly of parking the bus against such a good team. And fourth, we were just lucky, and Vietnam was just unlucky with their shots.

I also didn’t like the over-reliance on long balls, most of which were way off. They turned over the ball too many times, and shortened the time of the ball in our possession, allowing our opponents more opportunity for attacks, which is what they exactly did. Weiss should realize that if you are going to park the bus, you need to waste time away also by trying to keep ball possession. Of course, building up an attack would’ve been difficult considering the gap in individual talent, but they could’ve perhaps tried it more after seeing that their long ball strategy was going nowhere.

The only bright spot for the U23 Azkals was that beautiful goal in the 37th minute. A great cross from the right side from what seemed like Mark Hartmann, then an equally great backheel pass to the center by an Azkal I couldn’t see who, and capped by a quick shot by Maniyot, ah, er, I mean Manny Ott. But because of the Vietnamese’ dominance all throughout the game, it felt more like a fluke, or in Tagalog, ‘tsamba’. If the Vietnamese weren’t so impressive, that U23 Azkal goal would’ve been more credible, but its not.

This game just shows that there is just a long way to go for Philippine Football, even in South East Asia. I don’t think we will get a medal in these games, not with such a large gap in terms of individual and team skills. Our only hope is if the other SEA teams are not as good as this Vietnamese team, and that this Vietnamese team will emerge as the champion of this tournament.

‘Timor-Letse Upsets the U23 Azkals, 2-1’
Of course we expect to win against Timor-Letse. They are a very small country, only a million people. Unlike Kuwait, they don’t have oil, and is a poor country. They are also a new country, probably only about a decade old. Not only are we expected to win, but we are expected to rout them.

I started feeling a bit uneasy when early in the game, the Timor-Letsians started to look very impressive on the attack. And true enough, they were the ones who scored the opening goal in the first half. They were very fast, and their passing (even long balls, were very good). Not only that, but they retained the ball very well, and their attacks were more cohesive. When the Timor-Letsians aren’t looking impressive on the counter-attack, they are doing impressive mid or long range shots on goal.

Our backline really sucked, and sucked big time. Time and again they were being beaten by the Timor-Letsians on breakaway. Muller again had a pretty good game, with some pretty good saves, but again got swamped by great shots on goal by the opposing side. Our attacks on the hand, continue to be unimpressive. Again, our long balls end up nowhere, resulting in a lot of turnovers, and worst, giving opportunities for Timor-Letse for a counter-attack.

I recall Mark Hartmann complaining being on the bench of the main Azkals team a couple of games ago. Now not only is he starting with this U23 team, but he is also the main striker of the team. And two games on, he still hasn’t scored any fucking goals. I also had high hopes for Jinggoy Valmayor, but he was a non-factor in this game, perhaps his very first international outing. About the only player who really impressed me on our side was OJ Porteria. He played with a lot of heart, and even scored the team’s only goal. His ballhandling was also fantastic, he was the only player the Letsians had problems containing. However, he is only one guy, and one player does not make a good Football team.

Two games into their South East Asian Games stint, and the U23 Azkals participation in this event is already a “DEE-SAS-TURR!!!”, as the French would say. With another strong team in Myanmar down the road for us, it is highly unlikely that we will advance into the next round. To their credit, the U23 Azkals did play very hard in the last 30 minutes of the game, really playing with a lot of intensity and bringing the fight into the Letsian’s side of the pitch. However, it just wasn’t enough, the ability to bring the final ball just wasn’t there.

Another very, very painful game to watch. After that second goal, I couldn’t sit down and watch the game, I had to walk away, and just sneak back in. However, when I sneaked back, I still saw the painful things in the game and had to go take a walk again. In the end, I just turned the volume on the TV set off, and just watched the game every now and then.

If there’s any consolation, its the fact that this Timor-Letsian team don’t look “South East Asian” at all. Their players are tall, lean, and very athletic. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were “imports”, or naturalized players. If the Letsians wanted to play this way, then we could’ve done the same also, and hired imports of our own so we could kick their Letsian asses all the way back to their backward capital. As it is, the Letsians are not the whipping boys of South East Asia anymore, they have become a solid contender. What is frightening, is that we might have been demoted, and will now be the whipping boys of SEA.

Despite that, though, I think the problem really was the inability of the coaching staff to form a good, cohesive team. True, they only started practicing as a team a month into the event, but then again I think the Letsians had the same issue also. And we keep seeing the same problems with the coaching staff, whether it was with the main Azkals team, or this U23 Azkals team.

I’m getting tired of complaining about Weiss, I guess we just have to accept that we are a poor country that just can’t afford to pay USD 25k per month for a really good coach, like Vietnam does. And we aren’t even paying Weiss salary: I think its part of the grant that the German government gave us. At any rate, the only thing we can hope for now, is to salvage some pride and win the remaining games. But then again, that may even be too much to ask for now.

And one more thing: Even though the rest of South East Asia does not take Basketball seriously, I am sort of glad that we will be wiping their asses all over the court in that sport. I think “Sinag Pilipinas” (the Philippine’s Basketball team in this SEAG) deserves the support of Football fans, if only for us to see beat all these South East Asian countries, even if its on another sport.


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