U23 Azkals 2011 SEAG Stint Reflections

The U23 Azkals’ stint in the South East Asian Games (SEAG) has been a complete and utter disaster. I will not mince any other word to describe it. We got a huge break by ending up in the “Group of Hope”, so-called by Weiss because most of the teams there are NOT the South East Asian (SEA) superpowers, hence the expectation for us to perhaps get into the medal tally. INSTEAD, we ended up DEAD LAST in an “easy” division. If that is not a disaster, I don’t know what is. If we got beaten this badly against the “Group of Hope”, imagine what would’ve happened to us if we were in the “Group of Death”.

We played five games, lost four times and won only once. And that lone win was due to a miracle, out of sheer luck more than anything else. We scored ONLY SIX GOALS in five matches for a paltry average of only 1.2 goals per game. In contrast, we CONCEDED FOURTEEN GOAL in five matches, giving up an average of 2.8 or almost three goals per game. Only three U23 Azkals scored goals in this stint: Manny Ott with two goals, OJ Porteria with one, and Joshua Beloya with three.

I don’t buy the crap that the team was “unprepared” and only had a month’s worth of practice. As far as I know, this team played a couple of games against local UFL teams, even winning one over Phoenix Air Force FC. They even went to Japan for some training, and didn’t do too badly there: They didn’t get blown off by large margins, and even drawing and winning some. The team just really sucked, in terms of the coaching, training and philosophy.

‘Individual Performances’
As commentator Ryan Fenix said, the U23 Azkals have a graveyard of defenders, backline players whose reputations have been thoroughly trampled upon on this stint. Carli De Murgia, Jason De Jong, Neckson Leonora, Oliver Van Boesche had their moments on defense, but generally they just got beaten time and again. Those fourteen conceded goals are a testament of that. One can only hope their reputations will be recovered somewhat. David Basa and Patrick Heinrichsen were non-factors at all.

Mark “I’m-Too-Good-to-be-a-Sub” Hartmann had his moments on offense, but was unable to score a goal in the series. He has good ball handling / passing / shooting abilities, and he has bulk, but he is just a bit too slow in terms of speed (takes forever to reach the opponent’s box from midfield) and quickness (easily dispossesed in traffic). OJ Porteria was an excellent ball handler, and has good speed and quickness, very shifty with the ball, but too young at only seventeen and lacking in maturity. He could be the next important Football player for the Philippines, but that is still probably a decade away.

Jinggoy Valmayor, the 2010 UAAP Rookie of the Year AND Golden Boot awardee, is very similar to Mark physically, and in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and was also on and off on offense. Jeffrey Christiaens was a big disappointment. On a team that was looking for leadership, he was unable to provide it, despite his quickness, speed and ballhandling. He did orchestrate a well on offense, but more was needed from him and he wasn’t able to deliver.

Manny Ott provided some leadership, scoring some goals, but it just wasn’t enough all throughout the series. Only Joshua Beloya sort of met expectations by scoring three goals for the U23 Azkals. He made a name for himself when he performed very well in the 2011 U23 Suzuki Cup for the Negros team, and this is his baptism of fire playing internationally for the country.

And lastly, there was Matthew Hartmann. I was wondering how Matthew became the Team Captain of the team. He definitely did not play well when he was with the main Azkals team in the 2011 Long Teng Cup, and I was hoping he would do better in this series, but he hasn’t risen up to the occassion. Furthermore, he is forever tainted when he left the team after being humiliated at being substituted in that game against Timor-Leste.

‘European vs. South East Asian Style of Football’
In all of these five games by the U23 Azkals, one thing I noticed very clearly was how differently our opponents play Football compared to us. These SEA teams rely mainly on two things;
– Good individual and team defense;
– Quick counterattacks using long balls.

We, on the other hand, under that German Hans Weiss, seem to favor more of a European type of Football, which means long, patient buildup relying on coordinated attacks. Its not that we don’t use those long balls ourselves, we do, but they were just not very effective. Weiss himself said that he discourages his players to make those long ball passes, and go for a more deliberate game. So I think its fair to speculate that long ball style is not a priority under Weiss’ team, and therefore not really drilled or trained for during practices.

The other SEA teams in contrast were very effective with their counterattacks because their long ball passes are ACCURATE, and they have QUICK and FAST players who can beat the defense individually and score. In other words, they BUILT their teams to around that particular style. They choose players who are good long range passers, and have fast and quick athletic forwards who they can pass or lob those balls to. And not only did they choose their players for that style, they probably drilled and trained for that during practices.

The European style of Football is harder in that you need to have MANY and GOOD passes to make it work. On top of that, the defense will already be setup by the time you are in a good position, so you will need great finishers, someone who can hit that ball around the defense. In Europe, they have so much talent there that they can get the best of the best players to make it work. In the Philippines, we are not anywhere near that level of talent yet.

As a result, we have a very inefficient team, one that has so many goal attempts, but very few goals. Our opponents, on the other hand, were very efficient in that they didn’t have to make a lot of attempts to score a goal. They rely on those 1 to 2 ACCURATE, LONG PASSES to their streaking players, who then more often than not catches the defense offguard with their speed and quickness.

This SEA type of Football is similar to McMenemy’s “Defensive Football” style, which seems to work very well in Asia. For example, in December 2010, we fought Indonesia twice on their home pitch with 80k fans. Indonesia is a major Football power in South East Asia, and yet could only muster 1-0 wins against us on their territory. They were so scared of our counterattacks that it limited their offense, and our defense was good enough to keep them from scoring a lot more goals.

Its all just basic Football and common sense. Weiss and Germany needs to critique on the type of Football philosophy they want to teach us, and reflect on whether it really works or not as applied to us. They then can determine what changes they need to make. Their brand of Football may work in Europe and the rest of the world, but the situation in Asia and the Philippines is different. In Asia, all of our opponents are very good, while we are trying to catch up. We don’t have the material and infrastructure yet to make the European type of Football work. The results speak for themselves; We ended up in LAST place with our current style of play, while we get beaten badly by our opponents using the their method.

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