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On Azkals’ 3-1 loss to Vietnam

How do I look at this 3-1 loss by the Philippines (or a win by Vietnam)?

There’s the Juan Manuel Marquez School of Thought

How’s boxing get into this? In the fourth meeting between the Mexican and Manny Pacquiao, Marquez was fueled by rage and revenge; those two are powerful motivating factors. He felt he was robbed of a victory in at least one of his first three fights with the Fiipino. Heck, he would have even fought for free in that fourth fight just to prove a point. And he won it in devastating fashion, somewhat erasing the stigma of the past defeats.

Cut to the 2014 Suzuki Cup.

First of all, Vietnam pulled all the stops to win this game. No way were they going to lose three straight. They sure played the emotional hand in this match.

In 2010, Vietnam that told that should they successfully defend their Suzuki Cup title their national team will receive a bonus of at least VND7 billion (US$350,000). According to then Vietnam Football Federation chairman Nguyen Trong Hy, "If they win, they will also get awards from VFF's partners and sponsors," said VFF chairman Nguyen Trong Hy. These could be up to VND10 billion ($500,000).”

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Well, we all know what happened.

In 2012, not soon after the 1-nil loss to the PMNT, Vietnam head coach Phan Thanh Hung resigned before his contract ended.

In the Viet Nam Express dated Friday, November 28, it was written that a victory by Japanese coach Toshiya Miura will erase all debts of their previous losses. Money was not going to be dangled but Vietnamese pride.

Second, local newspapers have once more trumped up the “naturalized players” issue that is meant to add fuel to the fire. Written in the VN News, “Among the 21 players brought to Hanoi this time, only two people both have parents who are Filipinos. Many of those remaining on the payroll once played for Chelsea or Malaga.”

And third, Vietnam dropped two places in FIFA’s rankings this November. They were below the Philippines. Don’t think they wanted to remind FIFA who is better.

Motivation – pulling emotional strings – is a powerful weapon and Toshiya Miura and the Vietnamese Football Federation (not to mention their local media), made sure to remind the players of what was at stake.

The PMNT failed to quiet My Dinh National Stadium

In 2010, the Vietnamese crowd cheered for the Philippines against Singapore in the opening group stage match. Being inside My Dinh and about 15 feet away from then goalkeeper Neil Etheridge on the track, the place was electric. The Vietnamese booed the heck out of the Singaporeans, who were touted to be contenders for the title. But come the match against the Philippines, every Vietnamese tackle, shot on goal, interception, pass… anything positive against the Filipinos was cheered.

When Chris Greatwich scored in the 38th minute, the place was as quiet as a tomb. Said the television analyst, “That was totally bizarre!” I know it sounds like an insult but I can take it.

My Dinh is smaller than the cavernous Rajamangala National Stadium in Thailand where the PMNT played its group stage matches. The noise at My Dinh bounces onto the pitch whereas at Rajamangala it is somewhat diffused because it is so huge.

Even on television, you could hear how the My Dinh crowd gave their team a lift (I am sure you know how the MOA Arena was a bastion for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships).

Ideally, you want to score first and silence the crowd. That would have placed great pressure on Vietnam that will have to resort to a Plan B if their Plan A didn’t work.

In 2010, Ian Araneta nearly scored in the opening minutes and the My Dinh crowd heaved a sigh of relief. When their team couldn't make any headway past the Philippine defense and Neil, there was an air of anxiety. Even if you couldn't understand Vietnamese you could feel it. When Phil Younghusband scored in the 78th minute, lots of folks made a beeline towards the exits.

Four years later, the Vietnamese scored three straight goals before Paul Mulders pulled back one and even then they went slightly quiet. Imagine if the PMNT scored a second then the home side would have been seriously rattled.

I am sure that many of the Filipinos on that pitch have not faced that huge a hostile crowd at My Dinh tonight. And now they will be better for it.

Vietnam, buoyed by the home crowd, served up a better lesson in speed, power, and pace.

That was the Philippines in a nutshell in its first two matches – all wins. Vietnam beat the Philippines at their own game.

I thought that the Filipinos were too bunched up closely to one another that the short passing wasn’t there and it didn’t allow them to break out for quick counters. In fact, they nearly got a fourth goal but failed to spot an open teammate on the right while the Philippines’ defense was concentrated on the left. The other midfielders are forwards were slow to close down that gap.

The Vietnamese, on the other hand, quickly passed the ball forward. Something they did with consistency as they PMNT failed to mostly break up their passing game.

They also suckered in the PMNT’s forwards then unleashed long balls in a very opportunistic style to test the Philippines’ defense in the first half. They attempted such six times in the first half and got two balls inside the box. The first was where Le Conq Vinh was carded for diving while the second led to a goal.

Vietnam dictated the pace from the opening whistle. They attacked, harried our ball carriers, marked all the threats, and stopped the speed that has been the advantage. The lack of support or passing triangles hurt and there weren’t much options to pass. So the Filipinos oft forced the issue on one side when they should have swung it the other way.

As much as possible, never give the opposition open looks

As I mentioned about the spacing, maybe we should have had a stopper up front. The Philippines looked pretty vulnerable on top of the box.

Daisuke Sato and Amani Aguinaldo were imperious on defense (except for that third goal that happened when the ball was swung to the right – no sweeper and no one there to mark Vi Minh Tuan who first touch pushed the ball forward and past Sato. The blast to the far post was exquisite finishing.

Pham Thanh Luong was to Vietnam on a Friday night is what Okto Maniani was for Indonesia four years ago. He set the tone on that left side and his wonderful strike for the second goal was a heartbreaker. In case anyone doesn’t remember, he also gave the PMNT problems in 2012.

The second and third goals were howitzers!

Should we have matched them speed for speed?

Was starting Mark Hartmann right for the pace of Vietnam (no offense but I think Hartmann is better suited to play against side like Laos and Indonesia that prefer to play a slower brand of football as opposed to the speedier Vietnamese game? Or should have Patrick Reichelt started? So possibly, with Bahadoran on the left; Steuble on the right; and Reichelt in the middle, we might have seen some through balls, central midfield pressure on the Vietnamese.

Hindsight of course, is 20/20. But I wondered about that even as the game started and it became obvious that the home side was looking to press Misagh Bahadoran and was determined to not give anyone a chance to maneuver inside.

Isn’t it telling that the first cross inside the box and the Philippines scored? Thanks to substitute Paul Mulders!

The entry of James Younghusband also helped the cause (by then Vietnam’s pace had slackened as the Philippines played better).

What should the Philippines do next?

I don’t want to go into tactics. They already know what they need to do. Besides, I think I outlined it all above. So simply put – defend the home turf. In 2012, the PMNT was unable to capitalize on the home match although it did finish in a scoreless draw with Singapore. But in a frenzied Jalan Besar Stadium, the scored the one goal that mattered.

Vietnam held serve. It is not time to do the same. Score a bunch of goals in order to put pressure on the opposing team when both play the second leg.

Time to defend the home pitch, Filipinos!

***

Rick Olivares is a longtime contributor and blogger for Philstar.com. His views are purely his own.

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