Azkals vs. Turkmenistan Green Men, March 26, 2013

March 26, 2013 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila, Philippines for the Azkals’ final Qualifying Game for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup: The Azkals win over the Turmenistani Green Men, 1-0.

Active Azkals Players:
(Goalkeeper) – Roland Mueller
(Defenders) – Rob Gier, Dennis Cagara, Juani Guirado, Carli De Murga
(Midfielders) – Chris Greatwich, Anghel Guirado, Stephan Schrock, Jerry Lucena
(Forwards) – Javier Patino, Phil Younghusband
(Substitutes) – James Younghusband, OJ Porteria

‘Game Summary and Overview’
The game was pretty even in the first half, with both teams having equal chances of scoring goals. I felt the Azkals had the better chances, including Phil hitting the left post after Schrock stole the ball and passed the ball to him right in the first minute. But the Turkmenistanis had more possession and chances in the 2nd half.

Our goal actually was basically mainly due to luck, when Cagara stole the ball off a passing error by a Turkmenistani defender, made a shot that was deflected to Patino which eventually ended up with PYH, our best finisher, made that shot into the goal. If it were not for that lucky goal, the game would’ve ended in a scoreless Draw, or worst, a loss.

It was exciting until the final whistle as Turkmenistan had a number of chances near the end of the game, including one where Mueller spilled the ball off shot, and with a Turkmenistani player nearly getting to it.

Just like in the Cambodia game, Weiss gave Schrock free reign in this game, moving from left-right-middle if the Midfield whenever he feels like it, and also making him take all of the free and corner kicks, and deservedly so as almost all of attempts were at least on target.

‘Individual Performances’
I was surprised to learn that Neil Etheridge would not play in this game. I really expected him to start at the Goalkeeping position, but Weiss instead went with Roland Mueller. I felt sorry for Neil, he ended up taking out his frustration by live tweeting about the game. But then again, it was a difficult choice that I can’t blame Weiss for doing. Neil conceded the most goals last year, and had the least number of clean sheets among the 3 main Goalkeepers we had.

You could argue he played against better teams, but I would also argue that perhaps it is time to give the other GKs a chance also to start for the team against difficult opponents. A more important reason was that we have already seen Neil concede two goals against this same Turkmenistan team, hence perhaps we really should try someone else for this game. Mueller played well, although he did spill that ball which almost resulted in Turkmenistan tying the game in injury time.

Neil also was critical of Weiss, I remember him saying something disagreeable during his stint as host on one of the Azkals games. It’s possible that Weiss is aware of Neil’s disagreement of him, and decided to hand the GK reins to someone who is at least less disagreeable with him in Mueller. My only reservation is perhaps Weiss should have just made the decision before Neil came over. That would’ve saved the PFF a lot of money for Neil’s plane tickets, and spared Neil the embarassment of not sitting out the game. Not a good thing to do to an EPL level GK. I wouldn’t blame Neil if he ends up not opting to play for Weiss anymore.

Phil Younghusband had a LOT of misfires. Schrock was handing balls over to him all game long, and he kept shooting blanks. In the end, he did sort of made up for that by score the winning goal, giving him 5 goals in the Azkals’ 2 games in this Qualifying Stage.

Stephan Schrock was as usual fantastic. He was not as dominant as he was against Cambodia, and understandably so as Turkmenistan is a pretty strong team. But every now and then he was still eluding multiple defenders ganging up on him, and making those fantastic weighed passes. There is nobody else in the Azkals team who could consistently make those accurate passes all game long. If Schrock was a Basketball player, he would’ve been an excellent Point Guard because of his excellent peripheral vision, speed and ball-handling. Instead, he is a world-class Bundesliga player.

Javier Patino had a so-so game as Striker, getting only very few shots on target. I think his weakness was exposed in this game, which was his just average ballhandling and passing. His pace is not that good, either. He is basically mainly a target guy, a true Striker where you need to give the ball to him at the right place, and at the right time. But he is still important, if only to help draw the defense off from PYH. If he plays with the team more, we can expect him to get more touches of the ball on the attack once his teammates become more familiar with him.

Special mention to the Azkals Backline of Rob Gier-Juani Guirado-Dennis Cagara-Carli De Murga, they played well enough to keep that cleansheet against a tough opponent. As usual this is the strongest Backline we could muster nowadays. I did see one or two miscues, like a Turkmenistani not marked in the middle during a counterattack which would’ve been very, very dangerous were it not for his teammate failing to pass him the ball. But Turkmenistan is a strong team, trust them to be able to find gaps in our defenses at least once or twice during the entire 90 minutes. Dennis Cagara also was the one who capitalized on a Turkmenistani Defender’s error which resulted in the Azkals goal.

‘Parting Shot’
Turkmenistan is clearly the favorite to win the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup due to their high FIFA ranking of 140, and the fact that they were the runner up in the last Challenge Cup. We got lucky with that goal, but still I feel we got a little bit more respect in terms of winning the next Challenge Cup. It is still not assured, though, as we will face tougher teams, and this Turkmenistani team again to settle once and for all who wins the Challenge Cup and moves on to the Asian Cup in the years to come.

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