Azkals vs. Indonesian Garuda, June 5, 2012

June 5, 2012 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila, Philippines, for the Azkals Friendly game against Indonesia : The Azkals drew with the Garuda, 2-2.

Starting XI: Goalkeeper – Roland Mueller; Defenders – Dennis Cagara, Carli De Murga, Jason Sabio, Rob Gier; Midfielders – Chieffy Caligdong, Marwin Angeles, Anghel Guirado, Manny Ott; Forwards – Denis Wolf, Paul Mulders

Substitutes: Phil Younghusband, James Younghusband, Jerry Lucena, Neil Etheridge, Misagh Bahadoran

‘Game Summary’
For the Azkals, this was a game of two halves. The first half was the half where Coach Hans Weiss experimented with not having the Younghusbands around. The result was a team that did very well defensively, but did not have the talent to finish offensively. The team did have one lapse when Irfan Rachdim went down on the Penalty Area on a foul that was not called. If the game was in Indonesia, that would’ve been a Penalty Kick. Other than that, the Garuda could not boast of any other good offensive play in that half.

In the second half, the Younghusbands went in, and our offense improved as we were able to score some goals. However, our defense suffered as Indonesia was also able to score some goals. In fact, they were the ones who drew first blood, and who went with the go ahead goal after the Azkals equalized. The Azkals had to end up chasing them for goals in the second half.

If you look at all of the statistics, the Azkals dominated the Garuda in terms of Possession, Shots on Goal, and Corner Kicks by the order of THREE. However, we were INEFFICIENT, not scoring enough goals on the chances we had. On the other hand, the Indonesians had very few chances, but they were VERY EFFICIENT, scoring as many goals as we did.

We exposed their weakness, and that is their inability to have a ground game. But we also found their strength, which is their counterattack. In turn, our weakness was also exposed, and that is our inability to finish. Our strength, on the other hand, are the Younghusbands. Both teams are what you would call as “One Trick Ponies” on Offense: The Garuda could only rely on their counterattacks, while we could only rely on the Younghusbands.

‘Indonesian National Team’
This team is UNIMPRESSIVE out there on the pitch. They don’t have a good ground game, they had trouble keeping possession against our players. They mounted NO successful attack based on a ground game, and virtually relied on one and ONLY one mode on offense: The counterattack. Both of their goals against us were scored that way.

They maybe are a very one-dimensional team on offense, but that one thing they do, they do very, very well. Their offense is based exclusively on outrunning the other team on a surprise attack. One accurate long ball, a good receiver outsprinting the defense and going for a goal. I am tempted to say that they were just lucky, but then again, they have mastered that art of having only a few attempts on a counterattack, but making those counterattacks count.

And that makes them very dangerous, as you cannot expect any team to be at their best the full 90 minutes of the game. When those few opportunities come, they make them count, so cannot really say they are just lucky. They make their luck, based on mastering that counterattack. That seems to be the Indonesian Style of Football, one based almost exclusively on SPEED.

That Irfan Rachdim is a hot head, as shown when Chieffy gave him a light shove and his temper exploded, causing him to be given a Red Card and thrown out of the game. That is one very obvious flaw that other teams can easily exploit. Just keep roughousing the hot head, and sooner or later he will explode and get thrown out of the game. We should keep doing that to him, then, the next time we meet.

On offense, that Oktovianus Maniani (or “Octo”) is really impressive. Not only does he have great pace, he also is a fantastic passer, as shown by that cross that was headed in. Octo should be proud, he was able to beat a Danish Superliga player like Dennis Cagara to the ball by outsprinting him, and making that cross. He is the most dangerous player on that Indonesian team.

On defense, Valentino Telaubun was most impressive, working hard and constantly on defense, making last minute saves on at least half a dozen dangerous balls by his lonesome. He was one of the main reasons why the First Half Azkals team couldn’t score a goal.

I don’t like the way this Indonesian team relies on dramatics to try to win games. On one instance, their team was under severe attack in the box, and then the Goalkeeper goes down and starts waving for time out. When it was not given, they suddenly made a very big deal out of it, complaining constantly to the referee, with some of their coaching staff even going out and reportedly shoving the referee.

Its pretty stupid of them to expect that a time out would be given in such a situation just so they could escape from being beaten on a goal. I suspect they did it so they can go back home and complain how biased the referees were as an excuse if they lost, or why they couldn’t win.

‘The Azkals’
The Younghusbands are to the Azkals what Jupiter is to the Solar System, in that their presence alone affects everything around them. When they were not on the pitch, we couldn’t finish. When they were on the pitch, we get goals, and our opponents end up watching and guarding them too much that it frees up the other players, as evidenced by our more effective attacks in the second half.

I think Chieffy Caligdong heard my critique of him in the Malaysia match as he played with more intensity this time, making a couple of good runs, and decent passes. His Corner and Free Kicks were mostly off, though, ending up in wasted opportunities for the team. I was relieved when Dennis Cagara finally took over from him on making those kicks. While Chieffy’s performance improved, it still fell short as he is still looking for his first goal for the Azkals in 2012.

Our backline of Sabio, Gier, Cagara and De Murga was exposed in this game. They all have decent height, and plays with decent effort, but they sort of lack speed against these smaller but faster Indonesians. I think Weiss has a big problem on how to shore up that backline, as I myself can’t really think of any fast defenders that can keep up with these Indonesians, and still have the passing/scoring skills of our current backline.

Anghel Guirado’s lack of pace was exposed in this game. He couldn’t make his runs like we saw him do before, as everytime he pushed the ball ahead, he was beaten to it by these (again) faster Indonesians. As a result, he wasn’t much of a factor in this game. Not in the ground, at least.

Our players might be a bit slower than these Indons, but all throughout the game we saw that they were consistently winning the headers off crosses or set pieces. Anghel might’ve been a bust on the ground, but he had around a half dozen successful headers that just didn’t go in. This is one area Weiss would want to exploit and improve on in future games.

Marwin Angeles again had some flashes of brilliance, in one play he dribbled and kept the ball against three or four defenders, very impressive to watch. He also had some good passes, but they were merely that for now, short flashes of brilliance. He has to improve on his decision making and finishing if he is to be a more vital part of the team.

Misagh Bahadoran had some good plays when he was fielded in, helping drive some of those attacks, but like Angeles still not there yet.

It is a bit hard to blame Neil Etheridge for those two goals that the Azkals conceded in the second half, but it does make you kinda wonder how things would’ve been if Roland Mueller stayed on the pitch. Mueller might be shorter than Neil, but he is much quicker. But to be fair, Mueller really wasn’t tested in the first half the way Neil was in the second half, so kinda hard to call this one.

Jerry Lucena was showing his quality with those thru balls, and was a vital part of the Azkals offense as it went forward. But on defense, as a Defensive Midfielder he also had trouble getting back on defense to keep up with those Indonesian counterattacks.

Dennis Cagara played just average, his overlaps were okay, but not necessarily resulting in good scoring opportunities for the Azkals. And he was a member of that backline that conceded those goals. His Free Kicks were better than Chieffy’s, though, and one eventually resulted in that goal by Phil. Sadly, I would prefer Ray Jonsson than him on that position. Jonsson was more effective on both ends of the pitch than Dennis, as Ray showed in that AFC Challenge Cup.

The biggest disappointment for me in this game were Denis Wolf and Paul Mulders. They were hardly a factor in this game, despite the fact that Weiss started them up front to give them the opportunity to score some goals. Again, that spectre of the lack of pace hounded them and stifled their offense.

I’m not a big fan of Manny Ott, perhaps because I rarely see him make an impact on the game on either side of the pitch. He had some good saves on defense, but offensively he is not much of a factor. I don’t remember him making good runs, or good passing plays. Plus I don’t think he has the speed to be able to play both ends of the pitch well.

‘Final Serious Notes’
I am very disappointed with the result. I thought we had all the advantages coming into this game: We were playing at home, the Indonesian Football Associations are in trouble with FIFA. This Indonesian National team was also relatively inexperienced, with a majority of them having only a few International Caps.

On the other hand, we had almost all of our players from the major European Leagues in this game. Except for around four Azkals, we were a “full strength”. And despite all those advantages, we could only come up with a Draw.

Then again, that shows the strength of Indonesian Football. They may be one-dimensional and had all those disadvantages, and yet we still couldn’t beat them. That’s probably because in Indonesia, Football is a RELIGION to them. What Basketball is to the Filipinos, Football is to the Indonesians.

And with that kind of patronage on their part, they will always have that slight advantage over us, like the advantage of getting their best athletes into Football. In the Philippines, on the other hand, Football has had to compete with Basketball for the best athletes. Overall, I really don’t like this Indonesian team very much because of their win-at-all-cost attittude that they would even resort to dramatics so they could put the blame on someone else if they lose.

Despite my disappointment, I have to accept that this is just a Friendly, and we could not show too much all of our cards on this game. The real prize is the Suzuki Cup later this year, and I think Weiss is saving the best plays, combinations, strategies, tactics, etc. for that tournaments. I like what Weiss said after the game, wherein he said something like, we really cannot rely on the Younghusbands too much, that we need to find and experiment with other options.

I think he should again bench the Younghusbands in the first half in the coming game against Guam in Panaad so he can continue with his experiments. If the game goes well, maybe he can bench the Younghusbands the whole game if necessary. He needs to find the right mix of Azkals, one that had the defense of the First Half Team, and the offense of the Second Half Team. I just hope he delivers in December …

‘Final Not-So Serious Notes’
I am also disappointed with the crowd attendance, the Rizal Memorial Stadium was only 2/3 full for the game, with some empty spaces in the bleachers for the game. I think it is time for the Azkals to reach out more to bring the fans back in. A good start would probably be to have the TV commentary done more in Tagalog than English, so they can reach the masses better.

The blue Puma Kit is very nice, simple but elegant, with that shiny fabric. I hope to get one soon. Surprised that Indonesia had a sizeable contingent in the crowd of about a couple of hundred people.

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