Azkals vs. Hong Kong, June 4, 2013

June 4, 2013 at the Mong Kok Stadium in Hong Kong, China for the Azkals’ lone International Friendly Match in June: The Azkals win over Hong Kong, 1-0.

Active Azkals Players:
(Goalkeeper) – Neil Etheridge
(Defenders) – Rob Gier, Jeffrey Christiaens, Juani Guirado, Carli De Murga
(Midfielders) – Chris Greatwich, Chieffy Caligdong, James Younghusband, Paul Mulders
(Forwards) – Stephan Schrock, Phil Younghusband
(Substitutes) – Misagh Bahadoran, OJ Porteria, Marwin Angeles, Lexton Moy

‘Game Summary and Overview’
Not a lot of ground game from both teams, both sides basically relied on long balls all throughout the game. Part of this is mainly due to the high press both teams were employing which they could not overcome and thus lost much of their ground passing game. It was part luck, and part skill that we managed to score a goal in the first half: The “Luck” part was when the Cross by Stephan Schrock was deflected by a Hong Kong Defender straight into the direction of James Younghusband; The “Skill” part was how JYH got to the ball ahead of the defender in front of him, and how he was able to place the shot into the far right post when he himself was just beyond the left post. It was an almost unstoppable shot in terms of placement.

In the second half, though, Hong Kong clearly was the better side despite making more substitutions than us. They had a couple of great shots, including a Penalty Kick, and it was just Neil Etheridge’s brilliance that kept the clean sheet for the Azkals. The Azkals did end up with a decent ground game in the 2nd half in some spots, but these were not enough to penetrate through the final third. Most of the Azkals’ chances still relied on hustle by stealing the ball away, or by making individual runs during counterattacks.

‘Hong Kong Team’
Hong Kong showed in this game that they indeed live up to FIFA’s ranking of them as a “Developed Football Country”. FIFA uses that term to describe countries which has lucrative local Football Club Tournaments, good patronage from the local populace and good achievements in international competitions. Part of this was in effect during the game which was very well attended by the home crowd, it was a sea of Red out there in support of their team. They also were chanting non-stop all throughout the game, an indication of true Football fans.

Another evidence of that status was the quality of their game. They did not have a good ground game with nifty, fast and accurate passing like the Middle Eastern teams, but they do make up for it with the quality of their Crosses and Set Pieces. It almost as if every Cross or Set Piece would find a teammate out there or come close to the goal. Luckily for us, they either scuffed the shot, missed closely, or were saved by Neil. You don’t see quality like that in the UFL, or even in the Azkals.

I am also impressed with their Match Fitness as they were able to make a high or middle press against us almost all throughout the game, which is comparable to the capability of Middle Eastern teams we have played against.

‘Individual Performance’
Not a lot of good individual performances among the Azkals IMHO. James Younghusband of course did well in scoring that goal, showing us how pinpoint accurate he can be with those headers. He also made 1 or 2 really good Crosses that just weren’t finished by his teammates. Stephan Schrock also had his moments, but he clearly isn’t able to dominate individually the opponents as well as he did against weaker competition. He also was almost always double teamed when he had the ball.

But he did make a couple of good individual runs that resulted in good chances, and his shots off the Set Pieces were superb, almost no wasted chances, they either were on target or at least hit a teammate. It was only right that Michael Weiss designated him to take almost all of the Set Piece shots.

The night clearly belonged to Neil Etheridge, and for the first time I can remember proved to us that he is clearly English Premiere League level. He was the lone shining light in that dark second half when Hong Kong dominated the shots on target. First was that he saved a Penalty Kick, and then saved two more shots that almost went thru. The Penalty Kick was sent straight to the middle, and Neil saved it with his feet.

Another Free Kick from just outside the box curled into the right post which Neil reflexively saved with his right hand. The replay showed the ball was just about halfway thru in before it was saved by Neil. And yet another Cross that found its man and was kicked in was saved by Neil using his feet again. Were it not for Neil’s brilliance in this game, the score would’ve been easily 3-1 in favor of the Hongkies.

‘Parting Shot’
It was one of those wins that truly wasn’t satisfying, and was more out of luck. We were part lucky with that goal, while the Hongkies were unlucky because of Neil just happened to be in maximum form today. Hong Kong remains a very dangerous team, and we will not always win against them with the level of play that they showed. They truly are deserving of their spot in the AFC Asian Cup. They are not perfect, they do have their weaknesses, but playing at such a high level in Asia has made them maximize their strengths. Philippine Football has a lot to learn from them, especially in terms of the Quality of the Crosses, and Match Fitness.

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