Excellent results for the Azkals last tune up game before the much anticipated AFF Suzuki Cup. Another historic first against a long time Philippine foil is just what the doctor ordered as at the very least the players and coaches comes into the "Group of Death" in a positive and winning mindset, and not against minnows, mind you.
It was an interesting lineup that Coach Weiss started in this game, he proudly called it the "Peace Cup victorious lineup." Unfortunately, that lineup were not facing minnows anymore and thus the Coach had to turn to his proven veteran campaigner in Phil, James and Marwin among others. Note, that I do not talk about the age when I say veteran but rather their experience against noteworthy opponents.
As my favorite players are always the defenders, those that toil away without "statistics" that can be counted, I'd like to start with them.
Rob Gier "The captain of the defense," is most likely the slowest of the bunch and I cringe when I see him away from his part of the third, but without a doubt he is the heart and soul of this defense. If there is a Phil or Chieffy earning a golden boot our defense have Rob who oversees that positive point differential. It helps too, that Rob takes very good angles in pursuit. If you can, watch him closely during a game, he almost always makes his way INFRONT, of a person he wants to defend against and on time. Perhaps Weiss should start letting the boys perform more offside traps. Rob can certainly control his defense to have that discipline to use this hard-to-master tactic.
Once again Rob and Juani Guirado showed a yeoman's effort, especially in the first half when the Lions attack easily went through our shaky midfield. Juani, man marking Azkal killer Aleksandar Đurić, pretty much cancelled any effect Đurić could have made for the visitors.
Jeffrey Christiaens continues making a case for himself at the left back position. He is so fast that if ever he is caught out of position he quickly recovers. Clearly he also looks like he is adapting well to Weiss' coaching and position change. His versatility is something we definitely need. He is both Chieffy and Ray Jonssons heir apparent(unless Cagara shows up).
I saw Ray Jónsson get turned around at least thrice in this game and twice it was in the box or close to it. Luckily Rob was there to double the opponent. Also, in the first half most of the Singapore attack was on the right side, his side. Was this deliberate or coincidence? His passing percentage is equally quite dismal. What's the good news? Ray has more than adequate speed, has the technical ability to play and play well on the left or right side, a relatively good long throw, is a 90 min. player and most of all a good understanding of what the coach and Rob want him to do. Unspectacular but one you can count on, still.
In all, the defense played well but you've got to commend another oldy but goody for stopping that amount of "shots on goal." Ed Sacapaño faced 19 attempts and 13 "shot on target" a ridiculous amount! In his last 4 FIFA friendlies, he has allowed only one goal(against Taiwan) and the level of competition he's faced is getting better. What's his secret? A new goal coach from Europe, he is on form at the right time and more importantly, he is fundamentally sound. Sure, most of the shots he faced were heading directly to him, but remember this, to make a spectacular save one must make the easy saves first, and this he does with regularity.
It could be argued that Cris Greatwich is THE main reason for the Azkals ascension. Without his miracle goals in 2010 it is strongly probable we'd still be in the doldrums and that 80% of the fans now wouldn't be. One of my favorite players, Chris, unfortunately has been away too long as Singapore ran roughshod in our middle. There was very little control over the middle in much of the first half and is most probably because he and Jason de Jong have really not played together for about two years now. Chris, though, is a very talented player and should integrate himself with the team fairly quickly and regain his status as a play maker in the team.
Jason de Jong was once kicked out of the team, but now is a Weiss favorite and for good reasons. He is fearless(or maybe reckless?) has a great defensive mindset and after watching this game a few times, noticed his improving ball dribbling and passing skills. I can honestly say he out played Greatwich in this game.
Demit Omphroy is indeed a very skillful, fast and technically proficient right side player but in this game it showed that he will still need some seasoning on the right mid position to overthrow the incumbent, James Younghusband. When he was moved to the right back position in the second half I would say that he played better. Though over eager to overlap, he nontheless was quite effective and was quick and fast enough to recover from any bad position he finds himself.
Chieffy was his usual frenetic self but when the Azkals were reeling from the relentless Singapore offense, one can find him battling for the ball against a physically larger Daniel Bennett. He was not able to provide that offensive spark in the time he was on the pitch but he helped his team withstand the early assault.
Marwin Angeles came in the second half for Chris Greatwich and quickly showed why Weiss puts so much faith in this very versatile center midfielder. Not only did the Azkals begin taking back possession of the ball but he helped the offense by his timely forays into the attack. His goal on the 55th minute was the culmination of his hard work and a timely(and very impressive) pass by Patrick Reichelt.
Reichelt started the game as the lead striker but was effectively stymied by his teams lack of possession, in the 39th he was gifted by a pass from Wolf and for more than a moment was open yet he elected to pass it to Greatwich. He has done this too, in previous games. It is clear, Patrick must learn NOT to defer when he is the lead striker(or clearly open) regardless of who he's passing too, it's the "selfishness," or maybe confidence, all great strikers possess. As a replacement for Chieffy in the second half, he played equally well and seemed relieved to defer. He is heir apparent to Denis Wolf.
Denis Wolf is a player the casual fan loves to hate. If he does not score like Phil, he is said to lack the "finishing touch." Perhaps true that he isn't as proficient as Phil but his intangibles are many, he has a very good aerial game, better than average speed, work hard on offense and defense(a few times one could find him in the defensive third), a great goal poacher and a very good passer. Clearly his partnership with Phil opened up the Azkal offense. Not a first choice but adequate when the need arises.
James the young team Co-Captain provided the stability needed in the midfield and the right mid position. His uncanny ability to find his brother makes both indispensable to the team. In the second half the majority of the ball touches were with him and brother Phil and you could see the wariness in the Lions play.
Phil remains THE Azkal player feared by our SEA opponents.
When Weiss announced his "Peace Cup victorious lineup" I thought it was ridiculous followed by the feeling that he was weaning the Azkals away from the Yh's. If this was the reason, this game probably cemented the fact that our team lives and dies by the participation of these two young veterans. If he wants to keep his job, he won't experiment with his lineup(especially in the Suzuki Cup). Love them or hate them, the fact is, the team performs better when they are involved.
Random thoughts on the Suzuki Cup tournament:
Mcmenemy's ultra defensive tactics will not work here neither will Weiss' old "attack at all cost" tactics work either. We now have the quality personnel to play a balanced approach.
Something rarely discussed, but I believe the quality of Weiss' tactics in this tournament will come a long way towards the results we want, not just the players involved.
Even without Aly, this defense(including defensive center mids) is the best and deepest we've ever had. Using our subs in a timely manner can help preserve the health and strength of our "older' players throughout the tournament.
I'm surprised Ian Araneta was left off the 22 man roster as he has been a staple even through horrendous outings through out the year. I hope he takes heart and look to Philippine football legend Freddy Gonzalez. Remember, he was just invited to the Azkal pool at 32 even after taking a few years off of football!
Good luck to us in the AFF Suzuki Cup 2012!
* picture borrowed from http://mycebuphotoblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/azkals-in-cebu/