March 11, 2012 at the Dasrath Stadium in Kathmandu, Nepal, the Azkals’ second game in the elimination stage of the 2012 Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup: The Azkals beat the India Blue Tigers, 2-0.
Starting XI: Goalkeeper – Neil Etheridge; Defenders – Luis Guirado, Jason Sabio, Ray Jonsson, Rob Gier; Midfielders – Carli De Murga, Pau Mulders, James Younghusband, Anghel Guirado; Forwards – Phil Younghusband, Chieffy Caligdong
Substitutes: Misagh Bahadoran, Marwin Angeles
I’ve always felt that the South Asian teams are overrated, based on the way we routed (not just beat, but routed) a team from that region whenever we meet them. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, we all beat them 3-0, 4-0, 4-0. I felt that the South East Asian region is a lot more competitive than their region, and that we could beat this Indian team, we just had to prove it out on the pitch.
The Blue Tigers does have some quality, it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for Neil and our backline in this game. Neil particularly had to make some good saves off the Indian’s long range shots, and good crosses into the box, especially during Set Pieces (i.e., Corner Kicks, Free Kicks). Same with our Backline who were pushed to the limit a couple of times by the Indian’s attacks on our box. But in the end, we just had the better quality overall to win the game.
As for Phil Younghusband, his Brace actually was a bit overdue, he averaged 2 games between goals last year, and this is his third official game already this year. Let’s hope he can score more goals in the next game or games. His first goal was great, volleying the ball to the ground from the left side of the box, and hitting it beautifully near the opposite post.
But his second goal was even more fantastic, you can actually use it to show two great basic concepts in Football. First is the one-touch passing between Phil and James, with PYH passing to JYH who passed it back to PYH all with just one touch each; And the second is the Pass-and-Move, where PYH moved forward after making that initial pass. The time between when PYH passed the ball to JYH up to when PYH slotted the ball in was no more than three seconds, just not enough time for the defense to react to the play. One of the best Azkals goal ever using teamwork. While PYH was credited with the goal, JYH also has been officially credited with an Assist for this play.
I also saw a lot of one-touch passing by the team. Not anywhere near FC Barcelona-level Tiki-Taka in terms of number of passes, or duration all throughout the game, but we are slowly getting there. We were stringing along 4-5 passes every now and then, and did it quite a number of times in both halves, the most I remember the Azkals doing so far.
We also played very smartly this game. The Indians had a young, eager squad, and whenever they were on the attack and we managed to break it, the team showed a lot of composure by slowing the tempo down, and passing the ball along the backline. This clearly frustrated the Indians a couple of times, not letting them get into the groove of the game too much. You could almost see them getting restless, wasting energy and effort by uselessly trying to chase the ball around. Very smart play, something the Italians and their tradition of playing Smart Football would be proud of.
Phil Younghusband’s first goal is the second goal in an official match this year that we scored off a Jason Sabio Throw-In. The first one was that header by Denis Wolf against Malaysia. PYH also scored off both feet in this match, the first one with his left feet, and the second with his right.
Finally, a good game by Misagh Bahadoran, who went in as substitute for Chieffy. Misagh showed he could push that ball up also effectively a couple of times, at least against opponents of this quality. That second goal by PYH actually was off Misagh bringing the ball up and passing off to Phil. He also showed he can move to his left, even taking a shot on goal with it. But the power off his left foot still isn’t as strong, he needs to develop that further.
Paul Mulders also finally showed his Eredivisie-level quality. He is not the same type of an offensive player like Wolf, his biggest strength is his passing ability, that is how he contributes and helps the team on offense. He made a couple of really good thruballs and crosses that helped along that Azkals offense. He also has impeccable ability to retain the ball despite pressure from opponents.
Whenever he had the ball, I had a lot of confidence that it is in excellent hands, and that we will retain possession. Seeing Mulders also push that ball up a few times on offense made me think something like, “watch out, India, that’s Mulders pushing the ball up”.
Neil Etheridge and our backline deserved to finally get that clean sheet after all the hard work they’ve done the last couple of games. Special mention this game was Carli De Murga, who blunted a couple of runs on his side of the pitch. Luis Guirado is really a great addition to the team, he has pretty good Football IQ in terms of helping control and maintain possession of the ball on our side of the pitch. He was dispossessing opponents, retaining the ball and making the correct passes whenever he was in the center field and the opponents were pressing the ball.
Among our backline, Ray Jonsson is the most consistent in helping out of offense, with his speed and overlaps. His crosses are a bit inconsistent, but he provides an added option or variety on our offense. Then he gets to run back down on defense, not easy for a guy in his early thirties. I wonder how long Ray can keep playing at this level with that same kind of quality.
Great to see Chieffy slowly getting his groove back. He had a much better game this time around, you could clearly see his quality by how he dribbled around defenders in a couple of instances. He also provided some nice crosses and passes which led to scoring opportunities. Hoping to see Chieffy finish and get a goal soon for the Azkals.
Anghel Guirado again had a decent game on the attack, as usual, but still couldn’t find a goal for the Azkals in a LONG while. He really needs to work on his shooting and passing. He can get away from his defenders easily with such awesome skill, but couldn’t do much after that as his shooting is way off, and his passing inconsistent.