Another game, another near disaster, were it not for a miracle. Yes, it was a mainly miracle when player number 11 wins the game in dramatic fashion on 11.11.11.
There are couple of reasons why we won this game: First is the determination of the players to never give up. They were down to ten men, with the Laotians continually attacking again and again, and yet they dug down deep into themselves to try to come up with a win. It was a character revealing game for the team;
Second, the Laotians clearly sort of winded down in the last 15 minutes of the match. Overall, they definitely had the better game looking menacing on our left flank (as our two previous opponents did), but they did one better by also raiding our right flank. And in the second half, they capped the insult by raiding right down the middle of our defense. However, all of this suddenly stopped in the last 15 minutes of the game. They just mistakenly thought the game was over 15 minutes ahead of time.
Perhaps it was due to fatigue (both mental or physical), or perhaps they just became complacent, thinking that the game was won. Whatever it was, it was clear that their number of attacks went down in that end game, while the U23 Azkals started to dominate the number of shots on goal. It was also obvious that they were starting to focus more on delaying the game rather than going for another goal to seal the win. And they paid dearly for it. Charge it to inexperience, with them eventually losing what was a won game.
And third, it was simply a miracle. Two perfect plays, all within the last five minutes of the game, with the lucky number 11 so conspicuous in both plays on a lucky day.
To their credit, I had hoped that the Coaching staff will reward the combination that played well in the last 20 minutes of the game against Timor-Leste by starting them in this game, and they did. As a result, I thought we showed a better game on both ends of the pitch. Not good enough to dominate the Laotians, but good enough to come up with a sort of fighting form. One thing I noticed that we had much better ball pressure this time around. We were challenging them on defense, which sort of stymied their passing game a bit. Unfortunately for us, their long balls were still quite good, hence the main reason for those good raids on the flanks.
Another main problem with our team, is that we had trouble retaining the ball. Whenever the opponents pressure the ball, the players sort of panicks, and tries to make a quick or rushed pass, resulting in those long balls which end up nowhere. Thankfully, they did settle down late in the game to correct that, but you can also credit the Laotian’s lackadaisical play in the dying minutes of the game for that.
It kinda sucked a bit that we had to rely on basically a miracle to win over a much smaller and poorer country like Laos. Timor-Leste reportedly has imports or naturalized players, so it is sort of “okay” to be beaten by them, but Laos does not seem to have any such players, and they still dominated us.
All of our goals were pretty impressive, though. The first on was a due to an excellent cross-lob by Jason De Jong from the left side, followed by an equally excellent first touch by Jinggoy Valmayor, who then passed it to Manny Ott who managed to make a great finish in the 7th minute. It was Ott’s second goal of the tournament.
The second one was initiated by a great ball thru by OJ Porteria to Mark Hartmann from outside to inside the pitch. Mark caught up with the goal, then passed it to his left to a streaking Joshua Beloya who made an easy, gimme-goal.
The last one was a showcase of great individual talent. Mark Hartmann made a great pass from our side of the pitch to a streaking Joshua Beloya. Josh caught the ball inside the opponent’s box, using a header on the first touch into his thigh; The ball bounced on the pitch and Josh headed it again, before making one last adjustment on the ball position with knee before slotting the goal in. It was unstoppable, one of the best goals in the tournament.
We can thank God for giving us a miracle on this lucky, special day, but we can’t keep asking for miracles, especially on our next game, where we will be playing against a very tough Myanmar team. We need to play better defense and offense soon, in order to pull out more wins.