Azkals vs. DPR Korea Chollimas, March 9, 2012

March 9, 2012 at the Halchowk Stadium in Kathmandu, Nepal, the Azkals’s opening game in the elimination stage of the 2012 Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup: The DPR Korea Chollimas win over the Philippine Azkals, 2-0.

Starting XI: Goalkeeper – Neil Etheridge; Defenders – Luis Guirado, Jason Sabio, Ray Jonsson, Carli De Murga; Midfielders – Pau Mulders, James Younghusband, Misagh Bahadoran, Marwin Angeles; Forwards – Phil Younghusband, Angel Guirado

Substitutes: Chieffy Caligdong, Lexton Moy, Rob Gier

‘Game Summary’
Not so impressed with the Chollimas, they are not as good as the U23 Uzbekhs. I still maintain that the U23 Uzbekhs were by far the strongest National team we have played against so far if you include the Practice Games. On an OFFICAL FIFA game, though, the DPR Koreans are arguably the strongest team we have faced so far, them being the first opponent we have faced that played in the 2010 World Cup. They lost all of their three games in the World Cup, but only by one goal to Brazil, 2-1, before being routed 7-0 by Portugal which had CR7 (Cristiano Ronaldo), and finally losing to Cote D’Ivoire (formerly “Ivory Coast”), which had Didier Drogba.

We were lucky in the first half, though, especially with that Penalty Kick Play. The first one went in, but was disallowed due to encroachment. The second one was skillfully deflected by Neil Etheridge. That could’ve easily been 1-0 right there.

Possession for the Azkals in the first half was atrocious, easily 70-30 in favor of the chollimas. Despite that, we were still able to get a few attacks that penetrated the chollimas defense, with at least one very good opportunity by Angel who was facing all alone against the Goalkeeper, but whose shot just went inches off the right post.

Neil was very active in the first half, blocking shot after shot. Credit him and the Azkals defense for limiting the DPR Korea to a scoreless draw in that half.

More of the same in the second half, and it took the DPR Koreans up to the 67th minute to score a goal. The opening goal was a very nice shot for them, almost unstoppable, coming off a cross from the left flank that was headed in just 6 yards from the goal. The second shot was off an error by Neil, who dropped a ball going almost straight down, and was easily kicked in by the Chollimas.

‘Final Thoughts’
Azkal of the Match is definitely Neil Etheridge, who despite the error that cost the team a goal, saved quite a number of shots, and made good decisions out there on the Pitch. Without his Fulham-level Goalkeeping qualities, the scoreline would’ve easily been double for the chollimas, maybe even more. It worries me that if something happens to Neil, we only have Sacapano or Pascual to sub for him, both not anywhere near Etheridge’s level.

Great game again by the Backline of Guirado-Jonsson-Sabio-De Murga-Gier. That other goal for the Chollimas that was headed in was a result of poor marking on their part, but then again that cross was quite spot on in terms of accuracy, very hard to fault them for that. Despite the DPR Koreans’ attacks and forays into the box, time and again they were able to keep the Koreans from taking good, clear shots at the goal, and any shot were almost always blocked out.

Special note for Ray Jonsson and Luis Guirado, who showed great decisions on the pitch, like knowing when to let the ball out for a goal kick, and for using their bodies effectively to disposses and challenge some of the attacking players in the box.

This backline combination will be the cornerstone of the Azkals’ defense for years to come, and will only get better and deeper once Aly Borromeo becomes healthy enough to play. That means we won’t be losing quality on defense when the subs comes in, and also as buffer for injuries/commitments. We could probably even do without Anton Del Rosario now, but he is still important in that he could add depth to the Azkals, if he is willing to come off the bench.

Misagh Bahadoran didn’t play well again, too much dribbling, not enough getting away from his man. He was tasked to take over Chieffy and Wolf’s role in the left flank, but just couldn’t live up to it. Couldn’t push the ball consistently in front, and making passes that either ended up nowhere, or were easily intercepted. Again, I am pushing to Joshua Beloya to try out in his position instead.

Another disappointment was Paul Mulders, who was practically invisible in the match on offense. He did a creditable job on defense, but that’s about it. Its hard to imagine a main division Dutch league level player like him being overshadowed by a 4th Division Bundesliga player like Wolf, but that’s what happened. I hope its just a matter of him having problem acclimatizing in Kathmandu’s high altitude, and that he will be back in the next games. I hope.

Moy-Younghusbands-Guirado played decently, they had some few instances that they were able to push the ball forward on the attack. Guirado seemed well marked, and could’ve used Wolf as a distraction on the other flank. Chieffy came off the bench as expected, but wasn’t much of a factor in the game, his first after a couple of weeks out due to an injury. Given Misagh’s mediocre game so far, I expect Weiss to start him on the next game.

Despite the loss, an overall good game by the Azkals, against a strong and reputable team. I am sure that this game have earned us the respect of the other teams in the competition, as we have proven we have a capable, fighting team out there.

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