Azkals vs. United Arab Emirates, November 9, 2013

November 9, 2013 at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for an Azkals’ International Friendly game: The Azkals lose to the United Arab Emirates, 4-0.

‘Active Azkals Players’
(Goalkeeper) – Ed Sacapano
(Defenders) – Rob Gier, Jeffrey Christiaens, Juani Guirado, Ray Jonsson
(Midfielders) – Chris Greatwich, Jerry Lucena, Anghel Guirado, James Younghusband
(Forwards) – Phil Younghusband, Patrick Reichelt
(Substitutes) – Marwin Angeles, OJ Porteria, Mark Hartmann, Chieffy Caligdong

‘Game Summary’
It was obvious from the first few minutes of the game that there is a large difference in the skill level of the the two teams. UAE played like your typical Middle East team in that they play an up tempo type of game with very sharp technical skills. It was one touch passing all around, like the ball was connected to the players with a string and they just keep bouncing it around off each other. They took a total of 13 shots on goal in the first half, scoring twice in the first 30 minutes of the game.

After that though they sort of got tired and/or took their foot off the accelerator, slowing down the pace of the game. Which is good because it at least showed they are not robots and are actually human that do get tired. This allowed the Azkals to launch some nice offensive plays, which because of their lack of first touch/passing/finishing skills were unable to challenge the UAE Goalkeeper seriously. The Azkals only was able to take 1 shot on target in that half.

The second half was even worst, with UAE scoring another 2 goals and continuing their dominance with another 16 shots on goal while the Azkals were limited to their side of the pitch almost the entire 45 minutes.

‘Learning Experience Game’
This is another of those “Learning Experience” games for the Azkals because that’s what the Azkals officials usually say at the end of these games, and where the Azkals really have no choice but to just treat it as such because it is such a humbling experience. Football is a game of skill, and these Middle Eastern teams often remind us how far they are ahead of us in terms of skill.

The only way I was able to enjoy this game was to cheer for UAE, and marvel at their technical skill. Exquisite one touch ability that ensures they always get good control of the ball, and then one-touch pass, pass, pass and pass, and then more passes, often puncturing our defensive lines now matter how hard we crowd our box. And if they are not raiding our defense, they are showering us with long-range shots that luckily were saved by EdSa most of the time.

The best thing I liked about the UAE team were their back passes. They made around a dozen all throughout the game, and they almost always were successful in that it always found its way to a teammate and were rarely intercepted. Very flashy, very exciting to watch and making it look like an exhibition game by the Harlem Globetrotters out there playing against the token opposition.

‘Individual Performance’
In games like these, our offensive players usually take a back seat to the Goalkeeper in terms of achievement. In fact, they not only take the back seat, but step out of the car altogether. The few attacks the Azkals made were eventually wasted due to passes that reach none of their teammates. On the other hand, don’t let those 4 conceded goals fool you, EdSa played splendidly making no less than 7 fingertip goals. If were it not for him, that scoreline would’ve been easily 6 to nil. But no matter how good a Goalkeeper you are, you can’t save them all, especially if the opponent are so talented at taking shots on target, which UAE were.

As for the UAE players, hard to say who were the standout as they all seemed equally talented. The bald guy with the full beard for distraction showed wonderful form with his outside the box shot. He only had limited space and time to work on that shot, and yet still made a laser-like volley that EdSa had no chance of getting. The Afro guy also did well in moving the ball around at mid-field, making pinpoint passes that end up right at the foot of his teammates.

‘Parting Shot’
Its games like these that remind us how far the Azkals are from truly becoming world-class. Stephan Schrock is about the only one who is worthy enough to have that title, but the rest, even Phil Younghusband is about good for South East Asia only. If its any comfort, it not just us but also most of South East Asia as even the Football-crazy Indonesians and Malaysians always have problems with Middle Eastern teams also. Only Thailand can play against Middle East teams with some sort of parity, but the rest of us can only watch. In a way, teams like UAE are what our Azkals should aspire to be someday.

Since Hans Weis and his half a million peso a month salary has been unable to whip this team into a truly world-class unit, let me offer him some unsolicited advice to him: Have the Azkals play lopsided games every single practice game against other teams, something like 13 or 15 against 11, especially if they are playing against local teams. Load up their opponents with at least one extra defender, one extra Midfielder and one extra Striker.

That should help the Azkals whip up their overall individual and team game by simulating much tougher opponents. Playing against numerically superior teams will give them less time on the ball, and hopefully hone their first touch/passing/finishing skills. It won’t happen overnight, it will take months, maybe even years, but since nothing has worked so far, it is worth experimenting with.

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