MALAYBALAY CITY (March 16) – It was sheer luck that enabled the Azkals, the Philippine national football team, to win against Mongolia via aggregate scoring, 3-2. The second game against Mongolia, played yesterday in Ulan Bator under freezing temperature, betrayed the team’s offensive as well as defensive flaws and showed that football in this country still has a long way to go before it can really compete with the world’s best teams.
Weather alone was not to blame for its subpar performance. Days before, the Azkals lost in an exhibition match against a university in Japan, 4-0, a telling indication of the state of its overall preparedness. Imagine what the result would have been had they chosen to play against the Japanese national team instead.
The team’s sorry state of preparedness showed in yesterday’s outcome, 2-1 in favor of Mongolia’s Blue Wolves, and unmasked its 2-0 first game victory in Bacolod City as an overrated achievement. For while that victory may have given the hometown crowd reason to celebrate it wasn’t as impressive as the local media would have us believe. After all, even the team management had predicted a scoring binge in Bacolod and was somehow frustrated that it did not happen. The game’s only consolation was that it gave the team a cushion in case Genghis Khan’s descendants outplayed – and they did outplay – the Filipinos in their second encounter.
The nationals opened the game in Ulan Bator with a bang, scoring past the third minute of the first half courtesy of James Younghusband’s left foot. Their celebration was short-lived however as the opponents responded with a goal in the 22nd minute and another one later via an unchallenged follow-up of a penalty kick, also in the first half.
All throughout the game the Azkals showed sluggishness in offense and defense, failing to execute effective set plays and relatively slow in going back to defense whenever the Blue Wolves staged counter-attacks. In some instances, it was offside violations [by Mongolia] that saved the day for the Philippines. Another thing that worked in Azkals’ favor was the inability of Mongolia’s midfielders to sustain their efficacy in creating offensive links during the second half as they did during the first half, although their offense in general never lost steam.
On the other hand, the Azkals lacked offensive intensity and committed many turnovers through risky long passes. It’s common wisdom among those who know the game that short, quick passes are more effective in getting through the opponent’s defensive wall. To be fair, the team’s offense may have been partly affected by the absence of main striker Phil Younghusband, who wasn’t among the starters and who had to be pulled out midway through the second half because of a hamstring injury.
But then again, football is a team game. Let’s see how the Azkals would fare in the next round of the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup against Myanmar, Palestine and Bangladesh. For one thing, Palestine can’t be taken for granted in that in the Middle East, like in Europe, South America and Africa, football is the most popular spectator sport. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)