Azkals vs. Singapore Lions, November 15, 2012

November 15, 2012 at the CCSC Football Field in Cebu City, Philippines for the Azkals’ International Friendly Game against the Singapore Lions: The Azkals beat the Lions, 1-0.

Active Azkals Players:
(Goalkeeper) – Ed Sacapano
(Defenders) – Ray Jonsson, Rob Gier, Juani Guirado, Dennis Christiaens
(Midfielders) – Jason De Jong, Chieffy Caligdong, Demitrius Omphroy, Chris Greatwich
(Forwards) – Patrick Reichelt, Dennis Wolf
(Substitutes) – Phil Younghusband, James Younghusband, Marwin Angeles, Joshua Beloya, Ian Araneta

‘Singapore Lions’
Singapore definitely came to play and try to win this match. Instead of just trying to hold possession and ending up with lackadaisical attacks in the final third of the pitch like in our previous game against them, this time they were very aggressive. Singapore relied more on their finesse, with pinpoint passing for raids into our box, and accurate shots, either headers or mid-range shots from inside or outside the Penalty area.

What amazed me about this Singapore team are those mid-range shots. Whether if it is off Set Pieces, or half-volleys from outside the box, almost all of them were on target. Its one thing our local Football players lack, you don’t see a lot of those in the UFL, or even with the Azkals. The stats speak for itself: 19 Shots on Goal for them, 13 on Target.

About the only Philippine player I know who can do that consistently is Mark Hartmann, and it looked Singapore had a lot Mark Hartmanns out there on their team.

‘Philippine Azkals’
We, on the other hand, relied more on our athleticism and speed, relying on runs which the Singaporeans had problems dealing with. Favorite side of the Pitch is definitely the right side (left side for the Singaporeans), with both teams making their attacks on that side of the pitch.

Singapore had a slight advantage in terms of possession in the first half, but things went differently for the Azkals in the second half when the Younghusbands and Marwin Angeles came in. We started to control the ball and possession better, which led to more good attempts on the goal, and eventually led to that lone goal.

‘Individual Performances’
Ed Sacapano is definitely the man of the match, and deservedly so. Aside from saving that Penalty Shot, he also saved about half a dozen more of those pin-point shots from Singapore. Had one or two of those shots went in, the results of this game would’ve been very, very, different.

To me this is a career-defining match for Ed, he always had to live under the shadow of Neil Etheridge and Roland Mueller, but in this game, he proved he can be as good as those two. Against a quality team in a game they very much wanted to win, Ed held all of their shots back.

After being mired in controversies, leading to his benching in the last game, James Younghusband has been playing very well in the UFL, perhaps trying to convince Weiss that he can still be a vital factor to the Azkals, and in this game he proved that. His entry into the game was a vital turning point for the Azkals, his ball-winning, ball-handling and passing skills enabled the team to run their offense more smoothly. He figured in a LOT of the Azkals’ runs into the final third, and was instrumental in that lone Azkals goal, laying off the ball to Phil who made that great Cross. James worked hard lately to earn back his spot in the team’s Starting Lineup, and I think he deserves it.

I know Chris Greatwich scored two crucial goals in the Suzuki Cup in 2010, but in this match, individually he didn’t look very impressive out there on the Pitch. Much worst is that his unfamiliarity with his teammates was showing, leading to passing errors. The way I see it, he should strive to play more with the team, or else he doesn’t deserve a spot on the starting lineup at all.

Marwin Angeles came in and did what Chris should’ve been doing, which was win balls, and make good passes to push that ball forward. His entry to the team, together with the Younghusbands in the Second Half was crucial in allowing the Azkals be play offensively. An added bonus was his first goal for the Azkals in a major International game. Note that Marwin has played in almost all of the Azkals’ games so far in 2012 whether as a Starter or Substitute.

Jason De Jong still needs to work more on his passing, he again kept making some passes to nobody in the game. But he showed his ball handling skills in this game, making a couple of flashy, very entertaining plays around some of the Singapore Lions players.

Special mention to Rob Gier and Juani Guirado, who were solid at Center Back. Both took turns in effectively shackling the prolific Aleksandr Duric, who I can’t remember making a Shot on Target on this game. They stuck to him like glue, giving him very little space to move about. Juani made a mistake in giving up a foul in the center outside the box, but other than that he did well. True, Singapore ended up with a lot of Shots on Target, but this was more to the Quality of the Lion’s offense rather than the deficiency on defense.

Phil Younghusband didn’t get to make lot of shots in this game, but showcased the other aspect of his offensive game, making a couple of fantastic crosses, one of which resulted in the game-winning goal. The others resulted in good Shots on Target which could’ve been goals were it not for the quality of the finishing. He also combined well with Patrick Reichelt and Dennis Wolf on offense. They have been playing together for a couple of games now, so the familiarity is there, and I hope to see this combination play together for a couple more years.

‘Parting Shot’
It was definitely very much a quality game, one of the best I have seen in a while, with both teams using their strengths for making good runs and making good shots on target. Lots of action, never a boring moment.

Credit also for the fantastic pitch on the Cebu City Stadium which was consistently smooth and flat all around, allowing for all of the players to play great passing plays, resulting in a great game to watch.

It was nearly ruined by that colored Referee who seemed to be partial to the Singaporeans. He called a Penalty Kick that was obviously not worthy of one. Then he allowed the Extra Time in the Second Half to stretch from four to seven minutes, even giving the Lions a dangerous Free Kick from the Left Side of the box in the dying minutes of the game. I think the PFF should file a formal complaint against that guy.

A win by two goals would’ve given me more confidence in terms of our ability to win the Suzuki Cup. As it is, I think the Azkals will definitely remain a contender for the title, but it will a tight fit. Here’s hoping the fates will remain favorable for us in that tournament.

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