Tuesday, October 15, 2013

PFPC 2013 Azkals vs Chinese Taipei. The Wiking aftermath

Pic credit to philstar.com. http://img34.imageshack.us/img34/4219/4mow.jpg

"...I want to play very offensive, umm, very interesting style of football..." this is what our great coach has said in an interview prior to the game. This was the same thing he basically said in 2011 when he took over the reigns of the national team, the Azkals. Unfortunately the Philippines' later quality as a defensively tough and tenacious team has seemingly been paid little attention to by this head coach.

Since our best(and young) defender Jason Sabio decided to go a different road, Weiss has done little to improve our central defense. To be sure, his experiment with Jeffrey Christiaens as a wing/left back has been an unqualified success and his inclusion of Jerry Barbaso, a move that is long over due, adds a good and improving right back to a shallow position. What has been done by this coach in regards to a most critical position of center back has been down right criminal and has taken the look of a patch up job. Little has been done to add youth, a sense of permanence and improvement to this position.

At 33 Rob Gier will not last forever and despite his heroic efforts on defense his speed, or lack of, will one day make him unserviceable as a starter(assistant coach maybe?). Other central defensive player we have on hand are the very capable Juani Guirado who is 34 and the other high level center back, if we needed him to be is Jerry Lucena who is 33. Despite their age they do play at a high level but where are the "center back's in waiting" to bridge the gap between the old and the new(or very young)? Weiss isn't serious when he plays de Murga at center back. Carli is our best right back! Nor is he serious with de Jong, he is the heir apparent to Jerry Lucena and has skill and true defensive midfield mentality(more on this later) unmatched by any new midfielder now wearing an Azkal jersey.

Weiss made a hesitant move to introduce new blood to the defense when he unexpectedly(yet a very welcomed move) included young and very raw defensive talents in Amani Aguinaldo and R. Fernandez during the FIFA friendly against Indonesia, a very formidable team to play against despite the FIFA rankings, yet for the PFPC 2013 neither of the two were included or any other "new" defensive hopeful.

Here are a few Azkals tidbits you may find, interesting:

* The last time the Azkals lost twice in a row was almost 3 years ago in the now infamous AFC loss to Indonesia in Dec 16 & 19, 2010. Even then we only allowed two goals in two games in two away matches.

* The last time we allowed opponents to score two(or more) goals in two or more consecutive games was against Kuwait in a World Cup Qualifier series in July 24 & 28 2011 followed by a Long Teng Cup match against Chinese Taipei in Sept. 30 which ended with a 3-3 draw.

To be fair, prior to the 2 consecutive losses we just suffered, the Azkals have had a great year in terms of defensive success:

* Against Myanmar, Cambodia, Turkmenistan and Hong Kong we managed to maintain clean sheets on all 4 victories. Roland and Neil played two matches each.

Now that I've got that off my chest below are my individual player in-game performance review. As usual I'll start with the defenders as defenders are my favorite players and so on.

Jerry Barbaso at right back had a better start than his 1st Azkal cap against Indonesia the previous game where he started with what seems to be a case of the nerves. By no means was he comparable to Carli de Murga at the RB, but judging by his performance he has gotten past the jitters and is ready to play. His diminutive size isn't a handicap as he has great speed to mask his sometimes shaky positioning. His constant forays into the attack causes great disruption and pressure against the opponent as seen by the great many attempts at goal by the Azkals. His passing is average. He was turned around a handful of times so he needs to work on that. More training time is needed with the team but he looks to be moving closer to lock onto the undisputed right back substitute position. But what happened to the 'fro?

Jeffrey Christiaens at left back spent more time on the offensive side of the pitch, but that's not a condemnation. He has that kind of motor. He was saved 1 or 2 times by de Jong on the defense but all in all remains a potent weapon at his position. Only Cagara can dislodge him there. He is also turning out to be a very good mid range passer. Surprisingly he doesn't spend too long holding the ball as he did in the past. It's too bad as he has very impressive moves when he has the ball.

Jason de Jong played well and really tried to play a more controlled game rather than his usual "headhunter" mode when playing as a defensive midfielder. I can still remember in Dec of 2010 when he took down Irish football legend Robbie Keane during an exhibition game against the LA Galaxy. There was a moment in this game when he crashed into a CT player inside the box and I was sure it was going to result in a penalty kick, thankfully the referee decided against it. If Weiss continues to play de Jong as a center back I hope the kid continues with his maturity and rely on his skill rather than recklessness. Personally I still believe his forte is in the defensive midfield position.

Rob Gier at center back: Still the Captain of the defense but during both CT counter attack that led to the 2 goals there was no one but him who should have controlled his defenders, as it was, in their zeal to attack, their formation and thus their effectiveness were compromised. I cannot stress again, as the slowest player in that lineup Rob should  have enough discipline to stay closer to the box rather than past the halfway line of the pitch. Both CT goal shows my point exactly and I must say, though Rob displayed some very good tackling his overall handle on the defense(in this game) left much to be desired.

I consider Jerry Lucena as a defender first and is also in my personal "All-Star-Azkal" lineup. The more I watch him the more I am convinced he is among the top 2 or 3 best long passer among the Azkals. Especially in the first half he connected on all the long passes he attempted and was a major factor in why the team had majority control of the ball through out the game. He also has a great knack for finding and cutting off passing lanes(aspiring defenders take note). Watch the defensive sequence starting at 45:45, which shows his excellent speed(in spurts) and shut down skills.

Neil Etheridge: The first CT goal wasn't his fault and to say so would be an injustice to him. The second CT goal began with a horrendous sequence by the defense as a whole that ended with the ball being inadvertently deflected by de Jongs arms to result in an own goal that was nevertheless credited to CT, much like our lone goal in the 2013 Challenge Cup match against Turmenistan. It would be ridiculous to blame Neil for this goal too.

Once again Neil lost his maturity by shoving a CT player away from the ball at injury time(91:43) which could have caused him a booking. Seriously, I have to question his mindset as this has happened every few games or so. Remember when at Challenge Cup 2012 against Turkmenistan? The now infamous tripping incident which got him suspended from the next game? He did it again against Myanmar this year and then this game. You would think an EPL quality keeper would be less petty than this.

Stephan Schröck undoubtedly was the best player in the Azkals on the pitch this night. Speed, hustle, dribbling, offensive skill. He should've started at center mid or center attacking mid in place of Greatwich. Stephan has great vision and is comfortable keeping, moving and passing the ball. It also looked like he play more in control as opposed to trying to do too much such as in the Hong Kong friendly recently. Unfortunately the breakdown in defense overshadowed his inspired play. He played left wing. Check out what I had to say about his past performance against Hong Kong which I didn't put in my blog here .

OJ Porteria started as a forward/striker in tandem with Angel Guirado, he played well with 2 or 3 good shots on goal and generally being a menace to the CT defense. He was replaced very early, at 34:03. OJ was replaced too soon I felt, perhaps another of Weiss' head scratching decisions but apparantly it was justified as the Thai Division 1 player Patrick Reichelt almost immediately made his presence felt. At 47:03 he headed an assist that turned into our one and only goal. It was a good substitution. All in all a good outing for Patrick.
Ángel Guirado started at the other forward position and had at least 6 or more good to very good shots at goal but unluckily for us none made it past the CT goal keeper. Guirado remains a very hard working player who uses his body and height very well. It just was not his night. Still one of the Azkals dream teamers. His downfall? Has very slow acceleration(but is quite fast when he has a head full of steam) and is not a 90 min. player as he slows down noticeably. And Bob, it's Ángel not Ang-Hell, jeez man...

In American football when someone says, "so and so is always around the ball" what it really means is that that player is around the ball but cannot make a play! After getting back with the Azkals I have to say that Chris Greatwich has not improved on his contribution on the pitch since. I've watched him dominate in the UFL. His bicycle kick in one particular game(he scored a brace that day) was probably the goal of the season if the UFL had such a thing. He was an undoubted "point-guard" with Kaya FC, a "field-general" yet from Superman he turns into Clark Kent when playing with the Azkals. Never trying to impose his will on the opponent, in short he'll one touch most of the passes he receives. Sure, he rarely makes an overt mistake, he'll play defense too but I wish he does or try to do what he does in the UFL. Don't be afraid to move WITH that ball Chris, you've got the smarts and the skills to do it.

James Younghusband was himself this game. Opportunistic, hard working able to use his physical tools very well. Still an above average passer and good defender. He is deadly when an opponent looses sight of him as shown in our lone goal, similar to his game winner against Hong Kong a few months ago. Mr. Reliable! At 77:35 he was replaced by Misagh Bahadoran.

It took less than 60 seconds for Misagh Bahadoran to make himself felt with a well timed tackle. Another 60 seconds later found himself in front of his defender but he slipped as he was racing forward. This Persian-Filipino fireball was his usual self, speedily running to and fro. Unfortunately his finishing has not been at par and he is still looking for his 1st Azkal goal. At this time he has the skills to be a good substitute not yet(if ever) as a starter. Deserving of wearing the Azkal jersey.

It was 59:47 when Chieffy Caligdong replaced Guirado and the very next play Chieffy was in the thick of things. A fresh Chieffy is a very dangerous Chieffy... but one thing still remains, he is a below average passer but actually did better in this game. He is at his best going full speed for a goal. As a starter or as a super sub, if you want a goal you'd probably want Chieffy on the pitch. After CT's second goal they pretty much dropped everyone to clog up their end, too bad Chieffy couldn't pull a rabbit out of his hat this night. Don't say he doesn't play defense either(85:52) for example. He had a wonderful chance at 89:02 but couldn't convert.

Mark Hartmann came in, replacing Barbaso but not as a defender at 87:15, and at 89:00 gave a wonderful pass to Chieffy that saw Caligdong 1 on 1 with the keeper but he didn't convert. Mark Hartmann is a much more aggressive(offensive-wise) midfielder than Greatwich. If he only played as hard on defense I think he can take over for Chris G. in the near future, unless of course Chris wakes up from his so-so play.

The Chinese Taipei goals
The first CT goal was at 13:04. Guess what? It was offside. If you've got a copy of the game replay to 13:02 you see the CT player was BEHIND all four of the Philippine defenders! Both of our center backs were on or very close to the middle of the pitch. Jerry Barbaso was even further up the pitch over lapping but with his speed was the only one who almost caught up to the  CT player. The attack came from our left side. I'm not crying over spilt milk, I am saying three things: 1)They were off sides 2)If the ref didn't see it, the opponents deserve the goal 3)There was no one left to guard against what eventually happened. Failure of Weiss' defensive schemes or the defense loosing their discipline?

The second CT goal was at 64:30. It actually began right after an Azkals attack. The CT goal keeper ROLLED(not kicked) the ball towards midfield and immediately(Darren Hartmann, the commentator called it correctly when he said "...ohh, they could be in trouble here, it's 3 against 2!") Again it looks like in their rush to score the Azkal defenders were drawn dangerously close to the opponents goal, were caught flatfooted and paid the price. Barbaso became the impromptu central defender along with de Jong. As fast as Chieffy is, he could not close in to stop the attacker and Gier had no chance to even close in due to his deep position on OFFENSE and his lack of foot speed. If you read my past game reviews, I've mentioned time and again that Gier should never venture out too far from our goal as he just cannot get back in time, alas it caused the Azkals dearly, again I have to ask, was it Weiss' defensive schemes(or lack off) or the defense loosing their discipline?

I'd tell Weiss be a rock(like we were) on defense and everything else follows. This offensive Juggernaut, "very interesting" idea of his is crap.
Good Luck to us tonight. Discipline on defense and we win this...

Bob, seriously and I mean seriously POR-TER-YAH, not POR-TE-REE-YAH! Or better yet OJ!


  1. Some correction, Barbaso's game against Indonesia isn't his first ever cap; McMenemy already used him in 2010.