With a goalless draw versus Indonesia at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta on Sunday, the Philippines secured its fourth semifinals stint in the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup in the past five stagings.
The Filipinos faced tougher opposition against old nemesis Indonesia in this away match, but the second-half adjustments saw the Azkals take the fight to the Merah Putih.
Here are our thoughts about the match.
I thought the Azkals played a little too defensively in the first half. Even at the two-minute mark, they were defending their side of the field while giving Indonesia a lot of real estate to operate.
It is funny how the Azkals used to be derided as a long ball-playing team (up to the 2010 Suzuki Cup), but in this match, the Merah Putih’s long balls were giving the Filipinos plenty of trouble. For one, they were more or less accurate. This is something Sven-Goran Eriksson and his staff have to look at because the speed in which Indonesia mounted their offense or went on the counter, were giving the Philippines fits.
You have to give Tim Garuda a lot of credit. Indonesia pushed the pace and tried to be opportunistic. Especially their midfielder Riko Simanjuntak, who reminded me of former Azkals midfielder Chieffy Caligdong and gave everyone (save for Carlie De Murga) fits. Daisuke Sato had to work overtime.
As creative as Indonesia was, come the final third, their finishing and decision-making left a lot to be desired. On the other hand, the Philippines’ defense was solid. In fact, I’d give Man of the Match to De Murga (and to Simanjuntak for the Merah Putih’s side).
How good was the Philippines’ defense? As creative and frightening as Indonesia was on the attack, they only mustered four shots and all were off target. Conversely, the Philippines had five shots on goal with three on target.
The Filipinos closed down the defenders who launched those long balls forcing Indonesia to build up from the back. And that is our game, not theirs. This resulted in fewer attacks and sorties. I did think that the linesman incorrectly called Indonesia for forward Beto Goncalves for offside. And we were lucky because he had the ball inside the box.
I think the Azkals would do well to learn from Indonesia’s tactics -- the quick strikes, the rapid-fire counter attacks. After all, we do have speedy players such as Patrick Reichelt, Daisuke Sato, and the Ott brothers.
Just a note on the slow pace. There was a last gasp corner kick for us. Instead of sending the ball inside the box, the Azkals opted for a short pass and hoping that Manuel Ott would have a chance to cross that ball. But the referee, in my opinion, quickly whistled the game to a premature end. While incorrect, in my opinion, I think the Azkals should speed up the pace of their offense. That can unsettle opposing defenses.
Nevertheless, the draw sends the Philippines -- second place in Group B behind Thailand with 8 points from four matches (two wins and two draws) -- to the semifinals.
Now is the sternest of tests. The three other semifinalists have all won the Suzuki Cup in the last decade.
On the other hand, I am confident. I’d even dare say we have a chance to win it because of our bullishness on defense even when the offense is sputtering. Other teams would have to be wary because we have taken some really good shots and we’re still standing.
Now we have a chance to make history.
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