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Lessons from 2014 Suzuki Cup

Manny Ott was a huge loss for the Azkals after the qualifiers of the 2010 Suzuki Cup as he was not cleared by his club for the group and semis stages. He would've made a difference in the 2014 edition of the tournament.

Let’s get this out of the way first – I am immensely proud of the Philippine Men’s National Football Team. Save for the 3-nil thrashing at the hands of Thailand in the second leg of the semifinals and even for stretches of the 3-1 loss to Vietnam in the group stages, they played thrilling and good football. For the first time, there was a concrete semblance of what they wanted to accomplish and not run around like headless chickens. They no longer had to park the bus and try their luck on the occasional counter attack. And for that, I applaud their effort, sacrifices, as well as their blood, sweat and tears.

I must also commend Thailand for a terrific two legs. I cannot feel too bad because they played beautiful football. They served up a good old-fashioned butt-kicking for which there are lessons that can be taken away from this. Painful lessons and we would do well to learn them and apply them in time for the Suzuki Cup’s next staging for we are hosting one of the group stages.

Awesome display of speed, explosiveness, skill

They started out the tournament rather slowly, but the Thais got better with every game. But that’s merely because there are so many new players to their current national team. I have never seen Daisuke Sato so thrown out of his game that he needed to be subbed out and so early in the match.

The Thais were not only quicker; they were explosively strong. Their one-on-one skills were excellent as they easily went through defenders like traffic cones. Our players had to tackle them from behind because that meant that hey had gotten ahead. And we amassed quite a number of fouls, thereby giving away a number of free kicks, one of which led to a goal.

I will not assume that Philippine clubs are doing his but I would venture to say that it would be good to include plyometrics in the players’ training.

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Pass and go. Pass and go. Pass and go

Overall, the Philippines’ passing game was so much better. But against Vietnam and Thailand who did their homework by pressing quite vigorously and consistently – a testament to their incredible fitness level – they needed to pass quicker and make better use of the spaces. The Filipinos were dribbling into crowds and at times forced the issue when it would have been prudent to pass or swing the ball to the other side.

Our passing game and attack works on the slower teams, but now Vietnam and Thailand have repeatedly demonstrated how to beat the Philippines – you have to be quicker and stronger than they are.

Attack in numbers; defend in numbers

Because of the immense pressure the Thais brought to the game, the Philippines – save for certain stretches in the match such as the first few minutes of the second half and with time dwindling away – attacked with not much help.

If you look at the Thais, they moved up in numbers and defended in numbers.

We should have won that home match

For the second consecutive Suzuki Cup semifinals home match, we didn’t score. You might even want to throw the Peace Cup Finals in there. We need to win these home matches. In a previous vivisection of a previous match, I pointed out that only once did we beat a team playing in front of their home fans this year and that against Maldives. I do not think they strike terrors into anyone’s football hearts unless you count their boat ride and the sea conspiring with their football team to make life queasy and uneasy on the Pinoys.

A scoreless draw is good but you’re marching into their dens to steal a win. It isn’t going to be easy.

We need to turn our pitches into places like Boca Juniors’ La Bombonera or even the Thais’ Rajamangala Stadium. We need to electrify the atmosphere to give the lads a boost.

The Thais were buoyed by the home crowd, and they repaid it further charging what was already an electric atmosphere.

I summed it up in a Tweet and my Facebook status: speed + power and muscle + electric home crowd = death.

We need help up front and in the middle of the park

It is quite obvious that Phil Younghusband needs help. He cannot do it alone. For years we have been looking for his twin strike partner – Ian Araneta, Dennis Wolf, Angel Guirado Javier Patiño, and a few others. Besides, it’s always good to have more options up front to ease the pressure on Phil.

Now we’ve got speed and options in the flanks. I like the industry and skill from Misagh Bahadoran and Martin Steuble. Patrick Reichelt has thrived whether starting or coming off the bench. In fact, he has been one of the best additions to the national side over the years.

Now we need also that option from the middle that was lost when Stephan Schrock opted not to play. Manny Ott was superb! He was a huge loss after the qualifiers of the 2010 Suzuki Cup as he was not cleared by his club for the group and semis stages. He’s a much, much better football player now but I’ll repeat this, it is good to have more options and weapons.

But that middle – aye, there’s the gap.

In the home match against Thailand, they found a hole in the right side of our defense. In the second leg, they attacked right up the middle. The way they set up that first goal was brilliant. Head towards an open and unmarked teammate – boom. Goal.

They slipped that throughball almost without any problem.

Defensively, we’ve got some terrific ones – Sato, Amani Aguinaldo and Simone Rota. I have no idea if this will be the last rides for Juani Guirado and Rob Gier but they did a great job as well.

As we have seen from years past, the tinkering with the national side isn’t done. The team is finding new talent to shore up the holes and play prominent parts. Who would have thought that Aguinaldo would be the heir to Aly Borromeo in the back? Ditto with the diminutive Sato, who plugged the hole vacated by Dennis Cagara and Ray Jonsson.

So we go home, beaten, bowed a bit, and with the loss, our top spot undoubtedly in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, the nationals should be proud. It’s good to be seeded and hunted and that teams that once didn’t even prepare for us consider us a threat. The loss is a sobering reminder that more work needs to be done.

Having said all of that, I like what I see. I know the Philippine Football Federation, national team management and the coaching staff will not take this lightly. They will rebuild.

We will host one of the group stages of the next Suzuki Cup – a first. Who knows? Maybe two years from now, that could be to football what the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships were for the basketball counterparts.

Make us dream, lads. And thanks! My sincerest thanks to everyone.

Let’s go, Philippines. Let’s continue this surge, Philippine football.

***

Rick Olivares is a contributing columnist for Philstar.com Sports. The views expressed in this column are purely his own and do not reflect the stance of Philstar.com.

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