Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Philippines vs Pakistan, Redemption

Pic from

First things first, congratulations to the coach, staff, managers and players for winning the PFPC trophy! 

It was a welcome sight to see the team bounce back from a dismal result against Chinese Taipei. A game where the game plan was found wanting with too much imagination and not enough real substance.

Against a physically large and individually skilled team such as Pakistan, the Azkals showed that it could be a force to be reckoned with IF there is a balanced team approach that include proper defense and aggressive offense.

The lineup

Coach Weiss started with a very offensive lineup with a few second stringers thrust into the starting rotation because of injuries from the natural starters. Other players were plugged into a position that were not their regular spots.

Surprising as it was, and before we pat Weiss too much on his back, the opponents do stand in the FIFA ranking of 170+ while we were then at 141 thus his player rotation made sense in an "experimental" or to be kind, a "learning" point of view. One has to understand too that Weiss is the type of coach who will put his best 11 players on the pitch regardless of balance between the offense and defense. Wrong or right this is his philosophy as he has shown in virtually all his games from late 2011 and on. Lets be clear about this. This lineup will most likely not work against tougher teams(regardless of FIFA rankings) in south east Asia such as Thailand, Indonesia or Malaysia let alone our next opponent the UAE. Keep this in mind during our next series of games in 2013.

The players

Neil Etheridge: It's hard to put much blame on Neil for the Pakistani goal. All in all the team and Neil was much too good for the opponents. Excellent reflex save at 47:41 and 80:45. Where's Patrick Deyto? But then I know Neil needs playing time as he almost never get any with Fulham except for the rare youth squad game.

Rob Gier: make no mistake someone told him, or he himself saw on film what awful game he played against Chinese Taipei. Against Pakistan he was back to his old dependable self. Very timely tackles, no more gung-ho "lets join the offense and score many goals" mindset. He knows without his presence and leadership in that central defense, things will just not work out. Against the larger and taller Pakistanis he stood tall and uncowed.

Who would you put on central defense Juani Guirado or someone NOT a central defender? 'nuff said.

With the speedy tandem on the left side of  Misagh and Jeffrey Christiaens I expected a lot of fireworks but it wasn't to be as Schröck was the center of the ball movement. Defensively Jeffrey wasn't pressured much and was not called upon to be defensively spectacular. Pakistan did not cause him any problems.

Jerry Barbaso had a " not so great" series of games. The most glaring mistakes he makes(as I mentioned in my last post game report) is to too quickly bite on a move hence he gets "turned around" as shown in his 1 on 1 series when Pakistan scored their one and only goal. Another fault he has is his lack of footwork when defending in front of an opponent.  It's hard to picture this but if you can, watch Rob Gier's feet during a 1 on 1 situation when he is in front of an opponent(try at 10:20) his footwork is impeccable and will rarely give his back to the opponent. So he isn't good enough then?  I think we need to give him time to adjust, after all, after the 2011 WCQ much was said about Jason Sabio and his sorry defending. Jump to 2012 and he was THE incumbent defender even with Juani Guirado on the roster. Too early to close the book on Jerry.

Jerry Lucena had an average game once again, by the way this means "at a high level". I was surprised at the size of the Pakistani team thankfully Lucena isn't a stranger to playing against bigger players in the Danish leagues. He was more than equal to the task against this south Asian team to be sure. Although it looks like his Danish SuperLiga team has finally put him in the back seat, this should mean that he'd be available for the Azkals as he will no doubt look for playing time even when it isn't a FIFA free day. Excellent news coming into next years CC.

James Younghusband started at right wing and generally made himself a nuisance against Pakistan. he is consistent, does not commit many mistakes and can be counted on to put offensive pressure against any opponent. Weiss seems to be training him to be a right back reserve and with James' physical gifts and smarts it will likely work. As a right back he acquitted himself quite well but was not really tested by the anemic Pakistani offense while nicely supporting Azkal offensive forays.

After lambasting Chris Greatwiches minimal contributions since his return in my last blog(here)  he proves to everyone how great he can be when he is directly involved! Greatwich is better when he is aggressive and looking to act rather than playing as a complementary player, yes even if Stephan Schröck is in the roster! All game long he was deeper on offense than his previous games. True, his goal was a poachers goal but this is where he stands out being at the right place at the right time(remember 2010?). This cannot happen when he stands behind everybody else. I hope he continues his aggressive play. Scored at 77:26 to finally up our score 2 to 1.

At 52:10 he had a very good chance at goal after a sweet Bahadoran pass, unfortunately he couldn't convert but this is what I mean by aggressive. If he looks for the pass AND the shot it makes him more effective as a member of the starting XI and to Weiss' all out attack philosophy. Another good chance from a Misagh pass was at 64:50.  It is clear he's looking to score now.

Misagh Bahadoran looked good... again. Fearless, fast, creative, hard working, but until he finally finds the back of the net for the very first time, and continue to do so, there are too many other wing players young AND old who HAS scored for the Azkals. By the way did anyone notice? Misagh tried to bicycle kick TWICE in this game once on defense(26:35) and once on offense(38:37)! Heck, at least no one can say he holds anything back when on the pitch!  He has better moves with the ball than a lot of Azkal starters unfortunately his finishing is less than stellar.

If anyone asks me who my MVP second placer for the PFPC series, without a doubt I'd choose Patrick Reichelt. From his timely header for an assist in the CT game and then his well placed shot for goal against Pakistan, he plays a well rounded game and does not forget defense, he has high energy,great speed( which he was known for in Germany before making his Azkal debut) and has great football IQ. My criticism of Patrick last year was his willingness to surrender a chance at a goal passing it instead. In 2013 he is much more confident and will take a shot when the situation looks promising. Mark my word, Reichelt will soon surpass Phil as the Azklas primary goal scorer. Him playing in Thailand will only sharpen this already sharp blade even more. He assisted on Stephans Schröck's goal.

If you want the quick version Stephan Schröck MVP! Here's the long version. Stephan started as one of the two forward to begin the game. It worked because of his huge skill arsenal. Previously against CT he was a left winger. Playing armchair general I think the best position Stephan can be for the Azkals is still the CAM or AM. In this central position the team can use and he can display all his assets for the team. What assets? Speed, passing, vision, goal scoring, his high energy, football IQ off the charts and creativity not to mention defense. Weiss wants offense, imagine Phil and Reichelt(or maybe Wolf or Patino) at forward while Schröck slightly behind them ready to attack or pass? With this lineup we can still have a proper defensive lineup simultaneous to a very strong offensive unit instead of cheating by simply starting too many offensive players and short changing our defensive setup. Doesn't he look like he has a special "understanding" with Reichelt?

Finally, Schröck needs to stay disciplined on the pitch. He need NOT have the ball on his feet all the time. He needs to trust his team mates and it looks like he is now more than in previous games. Scored the third and final goal at 87:30.

Angel Guirado replaced Barbaso at 34:15 with James Younghusband sliding into the right back position. Guirado didn't score yet was responsible for exerting even more pressure on the offense.

OJ Porteria in at 73:55 to replace Bahadoran. Had a great chance at 78:55. A nice substitution by Weiss bringing in another high energy player.

Mark Hartmann in at 85:40 replacing the hard charging Chris Greatwich.

A concolation prize for Phil Younghusband(who had calf problems) at 91:30 replacing the MVP.

The lone Pakistani goal(14:44):

I cannot blame the central defenders here for they were covering the correct players and in the logical place were they should be. The onus of that defensive series was on Barbaso. He had the right idea and in a good place to challenge but he was overpowered first, being shoved out of the way, then couldn't recover in a place where he could've challenge for the shot. 

Azkal goals... 32:58 Reichelt, assist Schrock. Second goal at 77:26 by Greatwich. Third goal 87:30 Stephan Schröck from a great pass from Reichelt.

Things to think about after the PFPC:

While the team showed great grit and toughness by beating Pakistan and retaining the PFPC trophy. The overall performance of the team is, to be honest, sub par. Remember that both teams are at the lower rankings(both at 170+) and we lost against one of them.

We should really make up our mind HOW to use the PFPC. Since opponents are really at the bottom ranks, perhaps we should have learned more for the future by using a younger roster similar to last year. Whats the use of including Fernandez, Aguinaldo etc etc in the roster(against Indonesia) if we don't play them? Will the coach play them against UAE instead?!

The roster against Indonesia was a young roster at least on the defensive side, it looked like Weiss was finally going to try new blood but as suddenly as this began, it ends?!

No doubt you've heard of Martin Steuble the winger? I'm sure he has something to offer but we already have: Caligdong, James Younghusband, Porteria, Christiaens, Reichelt, Bahadoran, Angel Guirado, Schrock among others. Why not look and concentrate more on our defense which clearly needs the most help, depth and reinforcement? 

What identity is coach Weiss instilling in our team? Spain has tiki taka, the German has its ultra efficient machine. In 3 years can you actually tell with certainty what ours is? It seems to change every opponent or series. It's not like the team has changed drastically as the roster has generally remained the same and in most cases has improved. To be honest after the 2012 Challenge Cup I though our trait would be the tough defending, tough playing, physical, offensively efficient team. I really can't say this for most of 2013.

Without de Murga right back is a problem. Perhaps it's time to dust off Anton del Rosario? Sure older guy, but was a key cog on defense back in the days and his performance in the last UFL season showed he belonged in the "elite" side of our local players, still.

How about Chad Gould as a stand by central defender? To be honest he wasn't too effective early but as the UFL season rolled along I thought he was one of the better "local" defenders. He's got the physical tools to boot. Yeah I know he's older but we're talking about reserves anyway. Until I see Weiss committed to Fernandez(for example) I'll stand by this choice. He is still available isn't he?

To be fair Weiss' substitution was spot on. He maintained fresh legs to continue our high pressure on offense against the opponent.

We need to play more games in the Visayas.

Next up 

A match against a very highly ranked UAE team. Watch out as I play more armchair generalship on my next blog.

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