Bleachers King: Booking a ticket to Maldives

By Rick Olivares

Posted at Mar 27 2013 01:36 PM | Updated as of Mar 28 2013 03:07 AM

My thoughts on the Philippines defeating Turkmenistan

Third time’s the charm.

In two previous match-ups between the Philippines and Turkmenistan, the latter came away as heart breakers.

The two national teams first met in the qualifiers for the 2009 AFC Challenge Cup held at Maldives where the Green Men, as Turkmenistan’s side is nicknamed, routed the Azkals, 5-0.

Their second meeting was in Nepal during the semifinals of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup. In that game, Phil Younghusband scored an early goal for the Azkals but Turkmenistan tacked on two late goals (all in the last 10 minutes) to oust the Philippines from the competition in a 2-1 win.

This time, the Philippines, fresh from its successful 2012 Suzuki Cup run and its recent win against Myanmar in a friendly, was holding court at home. The Azkals had not tasted defeat since playing the visiting Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011 as they have run up an eight-match undefeated streak that includes draws against Indonesia and Malaysia and wins against Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Guam, and Macau, as well as the AFC Challenge Cup 8-0 rout of Cambodia last Sunday.

The Philippines dominated possession in this final match of the Group E Qualifiers although Turkmenistan had more attempts (14-10) and shots on goal (7-6). The Azkals finally defeated this contrapelo of a team when Phil Younghusband scored in the 66th minute and held off any rally at the end for a well-deserved, 1-nil victory.

Furthermore, it’s a breakthrough win that sends the Philippines to the AFC Challenge Cup Group Stages next year in Maldives.

Why am I ecstatic about this win?

Since 2010, every tournament the Azkals have played in, they achieved something then did better the next time they made it back.

For example, in the 2010 Suzuki Cup, the Philippines advanced with a 1-2-0 record to the semifinals. In the qualifiers, they also accumulated a 1-2-0 slate. The Azkals lost twice in the semifinals stage.

In the return gig in 2012, the Philippines lost its first assignment, 1-0, to Thailand  after which they repeated, 1-0, over Vietnam then finally dispatching Myanmar, 2-0, to book a semis seat. Once in the final four, they figured in a scoreless draw with Singapore before losing 1-0 in the Lions’ home field. They improved on the 2010 showing.

In the second staging of the Long Teng Cup in 2011, the team went 1-2-0. In last year’s edition, held in Manila and called the Peace Cup, the Philippines swept all three matches to win the tournament.

Then there’s the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers where the Philippines defeated Mongolia to advance. They finished 1-2-0 (there’s that record again) in the group qualifiers and second place to Palestine to advance to the group stages.

While in Nepal, they finished second to North Korea in Group B play with a 2-1-0 record to go to the semifinals where Turkmenistan ended the Philippines’ glorious run.

Where do we go from here once the Azkals set foot or paws on Maldives?

And that begs the question, what more in the next World Cup qualifiers (we made it to the second round of the Asian qualifiers in 2011)?

So pardon me if I am giddy about this AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers win. The team is just getting better and the only place to go – is up the FIFA rankings.

Cagara and Schrock

That’s a dangerous left wing the Philippines has with Dennis Cagara and Stephan Schrock racing up and down the line.

Cagara is a rock on that side that he has inherited from Ray Jonsson. He doesn’t concede much. He has good on-ball skills and has an accurate boot. The partnership with Schrock on that side, given more chances to improve their chemistry, will only spell trouble for opponents.

The two have also been tasked to take the foul and corner kicks further underscoring their importance.

I love their street dog-style feistiness that says, “We’re no longer you’re whipping dogs.”

Schrock, ever since his debut, has become a creative and dynamic force for the Azkals. He’s an impact player who can make things happen. And in two games, he has served a reminder of what he can do for the country when he is on national duty.

I am normally not fond of players coming in and taking in assured starting slots, but Schrock always comes to play and shows his quality. Massive addition to the team when he’s there.

And the home field is fast becoming a graveyard for foes.

There was a spell where the nationals (or versions of it) were taking it on the chin one after another but the improvement of the line-up, as well as a top-notch domestic league that has seen an increase as well in quality of play, have turned things around.

No one is taking the Philippines lightly anymore.

Can’t keep a good man down

Since Phil Younghusband joined the national team in 2006, he’s been paired with Chad Gould, Ian Araneta, Angel Guirado, Nate Burkey, Dennis Wolf and Javi Patiño up front. And Phil’s still there playing and scoring goals.

Several months ago, his commitment has been questioned when it should have never been (an absurd accusation when the whole matter was because of miscommunication). It got to the point where Phil and older brother James seriously considered retiring from international duty. It's a good thing that it never pushed through because Phil’s only 25 and not even in his prime.

In the meantime, he’s got 48 caps and 33 international goals (he’s also netted four goals in his Philippine Youth teams and 27 with Loyola). Who knows where he'll end up by the time he calls it a career?

Said Phil after the shellacking of Cambodia: “Being a striker, scoring goals gives you confidence. So right now I feel confident. I scored eight in one game as a kid and seven in one game in the UFL Cup of two years ago. I also scored four goals in my second game for the national team against East Timor in 2007.”

His confidence is up once more after his spotty use in the last few months.

¡Ay, caramba! It looks like we’ve found Phil Younghusband’s strikemate!

Javier Patiño looked to still be finding his way with the Azkals and that is understandable since he’s only played two official matches with them. But he’s showed that he can be a threat and that leaves opponents now picking their poison – PYH or Patiño.

Patiño scored two goals against Cambodia and had several chances against Turkmenistan. Right before Younghusband’s goal, his run inside the box stretched the defense for Phil’s magnificent finish. Of course, it was a superb build-up coming from Schrock to Cagara before the ball was crossed.

And if anyone noticed, we had four Fil-Spaniards in the starting 11 – Carli de Murga, Juani and Angel Guirado and Patiño. Good to see that Spanish football, best in the world right now, is also having an impact in local football.

This is said to be the strongest line-up ever fielded.

Terrific starting 11. Strong bench. Maybe we should use that bench a little more. Of course, that is the coach’s decision and we’ll just have to abide by it.

However, I loved the aggressiveness from the opening whistle where Phil Younghusband almost scored off a terrific run up to the box by Schrock. It took time for Turkmenistan to get their bearings. And the defense as led by Rob Gier was terrific.

Terrific job to the Philippine Men’s Football National Team! You guys rock! Time to book that ticket to the Maldives!



Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.