March 16, 2012 at the Dashrath Rangsala Stadium in Kathmandu, Nepal, the Azkals’ semifinals game in the 2012 Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup: The Green Men beat the Azkals, 2-1.
Starting XI: Goalkeeper – Neil Etheridge; Defenders – Luis Guirado, Carli De Murga, Ray Jonsson, Rob Gier; Midfielders – Chieffy Caligdong, Misagh Bahadoran, Marwin Angeles, Jason De Jong; Forwards – Phil Younghusband, Paul Mulders
Substitutes: Lexton Moy, Roel Gener, Ian Araneta.
‘First Half Summary’
From the first minutes of the game, I felt we looked very promising, mainly because the Green-minded Men had problems retaining the ball on our third of the pitch. Everytime time they launch an attack, things sort of peter out when our defense intercepts the ball. OTOH, we were able to launch quite a number of attacks using our “maligned” long ball tactics.
Paul Mulders again showed his Eredivisie level talent by making that perfect pass to PYH from the right side of the box, with the ball landing straight square into Phil’s head and into the goal. Credit the assist to Mulders, and this time it is an official one. I remember Mulders also make a good pass to PYH from the midfield that resulted in a goal in that friendly in Manila last year against Nepal.
Aside from that goal, we also had a number of near goals, including a point-blank shot by Jonsson during a corner kick that was blocked by the keeper. PYH had two good shots from inside the box, one was blocked by the keeper, and the other just missed inches off the left post. My impression was this Turkmenistani team has a strong offense, but a very weak defense, allowing us to have a couple of very good near goals.
Their offensive quality showed twice late in the first half, when a “Green Man” flubbed a nice cross from the right side. Neil was beaten, and if he had volleyed that shot, it would’ve been an equalizer for them. That was followed by another one-on-one against Neil during a counterattack. Luckily, Neil was able to block the shot with his feet, or again that would’ve been an equalizer.
I think we relaxed a bit too much near the end of the first half, allowing them to come up with those whisker-close shot. But its nice to be ahead, at least we don’t have that worry of chasing after our opponents. We need to score another insurance goal, hopefully it will come from Chieffy, or Mulders.
‘Second Half Summary’
The Green-minded Men started the second half very strong, with them playing possession Football, and bringing the ball forward. However, our defense held strong, and we were able to parry and block their attacks time and again. Meanwhile, we continued to have strong attempts at the goal also, but just couldn’t find that insurance goal.
Everything (our offense and defense) was going our way until the 80th minute, just 10 or so minutes from the end of the game, when a colusion of events occurred that caused us to lose this game.
The first event occurred before the 80th minute, with a gamble by Michael Weiss, taking out Chieffy Caligdong for Roel Gener in the 70th minute. The gamble here, was that he was giving up a little of our offense, to shore up our defense. It was a good gamble, considering that we were leading, and that Chieffy was still recovering somewhat from an injury. Besides, we kept trying to get that insurance goal, but couldn’t find it, so might as well try to protect that slim lead.
Then the second event occurred in the 80th minute: The Turmenistanis got lucky. They took a long range shot, one that was well outside in front of the box. It flew quite low, and missed the right post by just an inch or so. An inch more to the right, and it would’ve bounced off the post. It was basically a lucky shot. And here Weiss’ gamble starts to turn sour, because the score is now tied, and we lack one important option on offense.
The next event made that gamble even more sour: It was Gener’s error, Chieffy’s substitute, and his inability to clear the ball near the box that gave that Turmenistani the opportunity to prance around in our box, and take that winning goal. It was a very frustrating goal, because it was one player against at least six Azkals in front of him, and he still made the damn goal. Here is where we missed Jason Sabio. He had blocked a couple last minute shots like that, and he could’ve blocked it if he was there. Besides, the Azkals backline rotation would not have to adjust to a new player like Gener had Sabio been healthy.
We were almost there for 80 minutes, but just fell short in the end game. On offense, we missed Anghel and JYH, two our known finishers, with three goals apiece for the Azkals last year. We couldn’t find anybody else who could finish aside from PYH. On defense, we missed Jason’s last minute saves, and his absence also disrupted our backline rotation. But then again, injuries and suspensions are part of a Football game, especially on a long tournament like this. You just have to find a deep bench to anticipate them, obviously we don’t have that yet.
You can’t fault Weiss for that gamble, because that’s what a gamble is. Gambling doesn’t mean you will win, you could also lose. And it was a decent, sensible gamble to start with.
We were just 10-15 minutes from glory, and we got unlucky and then muffed it. The fact that the Turmenistanis scored two goals in just 8 minutes seem to show we sort of got tired both physically, and more importantly mentally in this game. At our best, they couldn’t beat us with a goal. But when we started to falter, that’s when they finally overcame us. We sort of just ran out of gas in the end.