This is the first match of the Philippines that I have seen in a while and I came away – despite the scoreless draw – with a lot of positive vibes and a feeling of hope.
There was word about the match being delayed and the inclement weather, making the ride to the venue a little more exciting and anxious than one should hope for. This is where you have to credit the coaching staff and management of both squads because they sure didn’t look like they were affected by what had happened come kick-off.
A glance at the Afghanistan’s record since last year shows that they are a tough team to defeat. When they win, they score a lot of goals; when they lose, it’s by a goal. But the Azkals aren’t easy pickings either.
Afghanistan started out with a lot of energy. They pressed and forced the Philippines to be a little more defensive. Their passing and speed were impressive. The Lions of Khurasan also gave the Azkals’ midfield some fits and bagged a bonus when Chris Greatwich went out of the game pretty early.
At first, I got a little worried because Greatwich is a very good leader on and off the pitch. But this is where is where a team shows its worth.
When nothing is going right, play defense (playing 4-4-2). And the defense, as led by team captain (nice) Juani Guirado, was steadfast. There were some shaky moments but this is why you value good defense and a good goalkeeper who can clean up mistakes. And the Afghans attacked and looked to score early on.
This is where you value someone like Stephan Schrock. He showed no fear and led the way. His forays in the attacking half and willingness to battle for possession was that spark.
With Schrock, James Younghusband, and the others going forward, that forced Afghanistan to leave some men behind to defend.
Now since the match started late, I wondered how both sides could play at a certain pace, meaning the body isn’t attuned to matches at that time of the day. Again, this is where you appreciate the training and work put in by the coaching staff.
Midway through the first half, the Philippines established control (off their 3-5-2/4-4-1-1 offensive formation) and found its passing game that is much much improved. The problem though was slipping in that ball to a friendly face inside the final third.
If Afghanistan looked like they were going to score in the match, the Philippines had just as many if not better scoring opportunities. Luckily for the Afghans, they had a terrific goalkeeper in Mansur Faqiryar who made some terrific saves all match long (he has to thank the crossbar for a nifty save too in extra time in the first half).
In the second half, a more compact midfield by the Philippines made for better passing. Furthermore, they pressed and gave the Afghans a dose of their own medicine.
Here I felt that the Philippines had the speedy players to cause some problems in Schrock and Patrick Reichelt (ditto with Ruben Doctora Jr. as well). But this is where the team needs to work on its attack -- the quick release to an open teammate and quick support behind an attacker.
In the end, the resoluteness of the Afghans on defense forced the Azkals to shoot from the outside. They launched some thunder crackers coming from Martin Steuble, OJ Porteria, and Daisuke Sato but they didn’t find the back of the net.
I felt that Philippines head coach Thomas Dooley made excellent use of his substitutions. The conditions might have conspired against both teams but I thought both countries played to the best of the situation. Overall, it was a quality football match.
I would have wanted to see the Philippines come away with the three points but I do not feel disappointed. I like the ground game, the adjustments, the defense, and the spirit.
I’d say the Azkals will play much better in their next fixture.