This appears in the Monday, December 10, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.
It’s a scoreless draw but there are good things to take away
Breaking down the Singapore-Philippines Suzuki Cup semis match
by rick olivares pic by aff suzuki cup
The Rizal Memorial Football Stadium was electric last night as it played host to the Philippines’ first ever Suzuki Cup home match. Traffic was really horrible yesterday and may have accounted for some no-shows but it was good to see the stadium nearly packed and the crowd into the game while cheering wildly. From the corner of Adriatico and Quirino, one could hear the roar of the crowd as the Philippine Men’s Football National Team and its Singaporean counterpart paraded onto the pitch for the playing of their respective national anthems.
The sparkling group stage run and the team’s recent success has rekindled Azkals fever. It certainly is no fluke and the sport of football is now and forever at the top of the country’s consciousness. As a journalist, it certainly is good to read for a change about other countries trying to derail the Philippines’ championship dreams. Imagine reading a sentence like that. We’ve come so far and there is so much to strive for.
The word that I used to hate so much when other countries referred to us was “minnows”. How do you like the term “contenders” now? It is not getting ahead of oneself but the national team is definitely no pushover now.
While the venerable stadium was rocking, maybe Philippine Sports Commission officials should really look into cleaning the venue up. Outside the stadium if you walked along Adriatico, it reeked of urine. When there aren’t any matches, the area is home to winos and where padjak, cab, and jeepney drivers relieve themselves. It really is embarrassing with the smell mollifying. I certainly do not recall my olfactory senses assaulted while at the Rajamangala and Supachalasai Stadiums in Thailand, at My Dinh or the Thien Trurong Stadiums in Vietnam, at the Kallang or Jalan Besar Stadiums in Singapore, at the Gelora Bung Karno in Indonesia, or at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Malaysia.
But I swear that I could smell a win. Unfortunately, we came out flat.
We started out flat
The nationals were excited for the home game yet came out lacking fire and purpose. Unlike in the group stages where the team was more aggressive in this one they struggled to get their game going. Players were off target in their passing or committed uncharacteristic errors like (Carli de Murga) allowing the ball to go out of bounds.
Singapore played with a stopper and a sweeper on defense to guard against the long ball. Their zonal marking also prevented Jason De Jong who came up huge in the group stages, from being effective with his passing.
Just like that, the midfield of James Younghusband, Patrick Reichelt, Paul Mulders, and De Jong was gone. It called to mind the match against Thailand where the nationals could not get anything going. There was no supply of balls for Phil Younghusband to work with and with the offense sputtering, Singapore went on the attack and kept us in our defensive half for long stretches of the first half.
We should all take lessons in watching the Lions’ disciplined game. They almost always went forward with the secondary right behind. They would re-direct the ball to a teammate for a quick counter. They were fast and good on the ball. And their diagonals were deadly.
A lot of credit must also be given to left back Dennis Cagara from stopping a lot of the attacks on the right flank as the Lions tried through balls or even high balls but none gat past him unless Singapore employed a two-man game of give and go.
The Lions’ best opportunity came when striker Aleksandar Duric dribbled past Carli de Murga and Rob Gier to fire a cross to an onrushing Shahril Ishak who missed what should have been a goal when the ball eluded goalkeeper Ed Sacapaño’s outstretched hands.
Fortunately, the back four of Juani Guirado, De Murga, Gier, and Cagara as well as the goaltending of Sacapaño were accounted for as they did their best to repel Singapore’s spirited attacks while the team got its bearings.
The halftime break was a massive respite for the Azkals to make the necessary adjustments. The Philippines not only dominated possession in the second half but also threaten Singapore with clear cut chances.
Leaving three defenders behind, Cagara, despite suffering from jetlag, provided the link on the build-up from the back. When Marwin Angeles came in for the ineffective De Jong, that injected some life in the attack.
We showed flashes of brilliance
Unfortunately, the flashes of brilliance for the Philippines were too few and far in between. And they were mostly individual moves rather than combination plays or the result of a build-up from the back like what was shown against Vietnam or Myanmar.
There was Phil Younghusband early on trying to beat two defenders but blasting wide.
There was the virtuoso move by Patrick Reichelt as he flicked the ball over his head before turning in the opposite direction to fire a shot that Mohammad Izwan caught.
There was Angel Guirado and Phil with a give-and-go that saw the striker nearly break free.
The entry of Chieffy Caligdong for Reichelt in the 76th minute that provided some spark but wasn’t enough with not much left in the game clock.
And what has not been said about the Philippines’ back four and netminder Sacapaño as of late? The platitudes are well deserved. And the scoreless draw with Singapore? We took their best shots and we are still standing. The Philippines did not play its best game. If they are able to find their form, imagine what it will be like if they beat Singapore on their home turf?
The Azkals have shown that we are no longer afraid and that we can go to-to-toe with the best in the region.
We didn’t get a win but we still look good
Having followed the Lions’ matches, they have of late, used forward Aleksandar Duric in a reserve role. Hoping that his late entry will be an advantage to tired defenders’ legs.
With Harris Harun out with an injury, Duric made the start. Yes, it was urgent that Singapore get an away goal but Duric’s start is more of the team missing a key player.
It is certainly not true that Duric dropped back for the first time to help out on defense or to even bring up the ball. Singapore head coach Raddy Avramovic would love for him to be the target up front but he knows that the tall Philippine defenders are not conceding much ground anymore. Furthermore, Duric always goes back down on defense. He doesn’t need to score but he can also set up his teammates.
Even during the recently concluded Singapore Cup where Duric’s Tampines Rovers played the Philippines’ Loyola Meralco Sparks, the forward would go down and help the midfield. Duric may be getting in on the years but he is in superb shape. Maybe much more than many younger footballers. And he isn’t always looking to score but to also set up teammates.
The scoreless result works both ways. Singapore is disappointed because an away goal counts for two. Going back home doesn’t mean it’s an advantage. The Azkals got a 2-0 result the last time around in the island state.
For the Philippines, the distractions will be a lot less when they return to Singapore. All the training abroad and the constant battling of tough sides has paid off. If the Philippines scores an away goal at the Jalan Besar Stadium, site of the next match, Singapore will have to score twice to equalize. Furthermore, they will be at full strength as midfielder Jerry Lucena is set to return. Only Dennis Cagara received a caution for the Philippines while three Singaporeans saw yellow.
At this point, the pressure is not on the Philippines but on Singapore. Whatever happens in the match slated for next Wednesday, it’s all about making history. For the Philippines, it’s advancing to the finals; something they have never achieved before. For Singapore, it’s an opportunity to break a tie with Thailand for the most number of Asean football cups with three each.
The Suzuki Cup is bracing for an explosive finish.