Azkals-Kuwait Series Reflection­s

‘Azkals Men of the Series’
In two games against a team ranked sixty seven notches above us in the FIFA World Football Rankings (as of July 2011), our opponent Kuwait managed to score five goals against us, while we could only managed one goal against them. I think it is only apt that the players that shone the most are the ones with the best credentials on paper: The second Division Bundesliga player Stephan Schrock, and the third-string Goalkeeper of Fulham in the English Premiere League, Neil Etheridge.

Schrock scored the only goal for the Azkals in the series, a fantastic 25-yard goal that caught the Kuwaiti Goalkeeper by surprise and slipped thru. That goal was important, as it gave the Azkals fans something positive to cheer about the Azkals. Instead of thinking, “wow, that Kuwaiti team was awesome”, people can think, “wow, did you see that goal by Schrock?” The Rizal Memorial Stadium erupted when that shot went thru.

Neil Etheridge conceded a total of five goals in the series, but he had stopped a lot more. And we’re not talking here about shot-straight-to-the-goalkeeper saves, but like jump-and-strech-your-soul-for-the-love-of-God saves. If the Goalkeeper had been made of lesser stuff, that Kuwaiti goal score would’ve been easily double what it is now. Had the 6’3″ Neil had been born and raised in the Philippines, he likely would’ve been one hell of a Forward in local Basketball, with his good height (by Philippine standards, anyway), fantastic reflexes and excellent decision-making. But thank God he is in Football. Thank God For Neil Etheridge In Football (TGFNEIF).

I felt we lost that series not because of our lack of defense, but due to our lack of ability to score goals. The Goalkeeper is about as best as you can realistically get, the guy plays in the EPL for God’s sake, so no complaints there. Yes, the defense could’ve been a little bit better, but the problem was they were just overwhelmed by too many shots on target from the opposing team.

“The best defense is a good offense”, and that quote applies best to this game. If we had scored 1-2 more goals in this series, then I felt that would’ve changed the complexion of the game. That would’ve made the Kuwaitis less confident, and less aggressive with their attacks, making them a little bit more defensive, a little bit more cautious, knowing that at any time in the game, we could go out and score against them so they need to try harder on defense. With them holding a bit back, then that would’ve put less pressure on our defense, with less shots on target from their side.
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Is Weiss Really Wise?

Hans Michael Weiss has so far escaped criticism from the local media about some of his decisions about the game. This is probably due to the fact that the guy has been with the Azkals for only seven months, and because we are quite grateful of the extensive financial support his German government has given the Azkals.

For me personally, I do not usually don’t want to second-guess a Coach of any sport, primarily because I am just an ordinary fan, and they have more technical knowledge and experience about how to do their job than I will ever have.

But then again, sometimes you see glaringly obvious mistakes that is just really hard to pass up, and during these times, it really has to be pointed out. We cannot always assume that they are better than us, especially if the mistakes are that obvious, and favorable results are not realized.

‘The Sri Lankan Yellow Cards’
In the home game of the match against Sri Lanka, after Guirado scored the team’s third goal in the 50th minute, a good coach would probably say, “Gee, I wonder if I could rest some of my players, and give exposure to some of the younger players? After all, this has been a relatively easy game for us”.

An even better coach would think, “which players have yellow cards? I should rest them, to keep them from picking up their second one.” And yet Weiss made no such move. And true enough, Borromeo was booked for his second yellow card in the 68th minute.
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First Look: Philippines versus Myanmar – March 21, 2011

Below is my blog about the game between the Philippine Azkals and the Myanmar White Angels held Monday, March 21, 2011.

As expected, Myanmar denied live broadcast of the game, hence people have to rely on Twitter to follow the game. A number of personalities were tweeting the game:
– Dyan Castillejo (@DYANCASTILLEJO)
– Craig Burrows (@craigburrows)
– Cedelf Tupas at @PHI_Azkals

‘Game Proper – First Half’
– Azkals on the defensive the first eight minutes of the game, with Neil already making at least two saves. Azkals did get in a shot, but saved by the Myanmar goalie.

– This reminds me of our last game against Myanmar in December 2010, where they also started very strong on the attack, with lots of shots on target.

– Four saves by Neil on the first twelve minutes of the game.

– Fifth save by Neil on the fourteenth minute. Those White Angels are really aggressive …

– Sixth save by Neil on the eighteenth minute. Too many shots on goal by Myanmar. Sooner or later, one might get thru …

– Chieffy with a steal but lost the ball, Aldeguer with a cross but no one to receive it. Azkals doing some attacking now.
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Philippine Azkals: The Myanmar Peril

The more I think about it, the more I’m starting to have some concerns and issues about the Azkal’s upcoming matches in Myanmar. My concerns are not about the team’s skill in terms of beating the other teams there, after all, the Azkals have the highest FIFA ranking in its group at number 151. Myanmar (161), Bangladesh (174) and Palestine (178) are all ranked below us.

My concerns cover all the other factors that might affect the game. Remember that we were in the same situation as Mongolia, wherein they were ranked way below us at 183, but managed to beat us because they were playing in their home pitch, and because we had trouble adjusting to the sub-zero degree centigrade weather condition.

In Myanmar, we have similar problems in that, first, Myanmar will be playing on their home pitch, so they will have that advantage of morale with their countrymen egging them on.

‘Military Dictatorship’
Another problem, is the fact that Myanmar is a military dictatorship. This is a government which is used to having its own way. It is suppressing, and even killed its very own people in the past. This is the reason why there is little, if no internet there in Myanmar even in this day and age. The government there sees it as a means to suppress its people from organizing uprisings.

Couple this with the Myanmar government refusing our local networks to cover the games live, and they have effectively removed checks and balances for the game. Myanmar wants us to use the coverage they will take of the game, which they could edit to their advantage.
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First Look: Azkaks versus Mongolia – Feb. 9, 2011

I was not able to watch the Philippines (Azkals) versus Mongolia (Blue Wolves) match at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod on Wednesday, February 9, 2011, but was able to follow it closely over the internet.

The Philippines of course won that game, 2-0, and these are just my impressions / notes of that game:

Game Proper
– Surprised that Araneta and Caligdong both started for the team, as under McMenemy, Caligdong usually subbed for Araneta. I guess this shows the emphasis on offense under the new Coach Weiss.

– I saw some lineups guessing who will start for the team in this game, and Simon Greatwich was usually in those starting lineups, but he didn’t start in this game. I guess Coach Weiss chose guys with more experience in this match (Simon was eventually sent into the game).

– A red card given to a Mongolian player sometime in the first half, so that meant they went down to only 10 men. I expected the goals should start flowing in with our numerical advantage.
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The Philippine Football Revolution

The rise of Football in the Philippines starting from the last month of 2010 is nothing short of miraculous. Take a look at the unofficial Azkals page on Facebook, for example. From having only around 2,500 likes at the start of December 2010, a month later it went up to 45,000. That is an almost twenty-fold jump in membership.

And the rise didn’t stop there. By February 23, 2011, after the Azkals’ won their home game in Panaad against Mongolia, the Azkals FB page went up to a staggering 134,000 “likes” already.

The rise continous as this piece is being written. How far it will go, nobody knows, except that there are millions of Facebook users in the Philippines, and the Azkals FB page has the potential of getting most of them.

The Azkals has become so popular, that it even exceeded the membership of two icons of the traditionally most popular sport in the Philippines, Basketball, which are the Philippine National Basketball team, “Smart Gilas” (35,000 likes), and the “Philippine Basketball Association” (PBA, 62,000 likes).

About twenty-four years ago, the Filipino people toppled an entrenched dictator thru the so-called first EDSA People Power Revolution. Fast forward to 2011, and I believe we are seeing another People Power revolution, this time in the field of Football, where Filipinos everywhere start embracing a sport wholeheartedly.

‘The Philippine Football Revolution’
The big question, is WHY? How come the Filipinos suddenly get so enamored with Football?

One reason being bandied about, is because of the good-looking Fil-Foreigners that the team has attracted. Now, it is true, that a good number of these Fil-Foreigners have movie star looks, and that a good number of the Azkals fans are women or ladies who probably has absolutely no clue on what a Football Pitch means, let alone the meaning of an “Offside” violation.

However, I for one feel it goes deeper than that, much deeper. And you can thank the World Cup events, and the rise of Social Networking for that.
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The Case for Football

The emerging topic of Basketball versus Football has been tackled in a number of forums, and have stirred quite a storm, especially from die-hard basketball fans out there. This is expected since Basketball is the number one sport in the country, while Football is an emerging favorite out to challenge Basketball of its dominance in Philippine sports.

Now I don’t necessarily mean to put basketball down, but just to state the obvious. Like it or not, Football is better suited for Filipinos than Basketball.

‘International Standings’
One issue that has been raised against Football, is that the Philippines is way behind the international rankings compared to Basketball, and that it has trouble competing at the South East Asian level. And these are, of course, valid issues.

FIFA (the international governing body in Football), currently ranks the Philippines as of this writing at number 150, while FIBA (the international governing body in Basketball) ranks the Philippines around number 50. So that means the Philippines is three times lower in Football than in Basketball.

Worst still, is the fact that the Philippines looks invincible in South East Asian (SEA) Basketball, where it handily trounces opponents at this level, and where other countries in the ASEAN Basketball League (the first SEA basketball league) uses Filipino players as imports.

‘The Loneliness of Basketball’
However, these numbers are deceiving, as one of the main reasons as to why the Philippines has a higher in ranking Basketball than in Football, is because there is more competition in terms of countries in Football than there is in Basketball.

The truth is the Philippines has a lonely existence in terms of patronizing Basketball as its number one sport, especially in South East Asia. Put it another way, a lot of countries in Asia don’t give a shi_ about Basketball the way they do Football.

Take Indonesia, for example. There is no way you can ask 80,000 people to watch a Philippines versus Indonesia match in Basketball like they did in Football in the last AFC . Okay, Basketball venues don’t have 80,000 capacities, but in terms of overall viewership (i.e., game attendances, TV ratings, etc.), there is just no way you can get Indonesians to patronize Basketball the same way they do Football.
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