We should have won by a more comfortable margin against Mongolia in the first leg of our AFC Challenge Cup playoff at Panaad Stadium. I believe Azkals fans,basketball fans, boxing fans, and most neutral observers can agree on this.
It certainly would have helped our chances if we had a few more goals tucked under our belt, because the prospects of our boys playing in sub-zero temperature looms in the second leg of the tie, which will be held at the Mongolian capital of Ulaan Baatar.
Phil Younghusband was a marked man for Mongolia. Photo courtesy of S. Kieron Tan of SKT Digital Productions.
Even though the match eventually ended 2-0 in our favour, it was a paltry return for the attacking football promised by the Azkals’ debuting German coach Hans Michael Weiss. Two goals on 32 shots and 80% possession of the ball? Not exactly bountiful.
We should note, however, that with the way the Mongolian defense was set up, it was very difficult to break them down and score the avalanche of goals that we had predicted – or hoped – we would.
It’s always difficult to play against a defensive-minded football team, particularly one that sets itself to “park the bus.” With this strategy, a team would spend most of its effortsto not concede a goal, and only try to score via a counter-attack. The team would only go for the goal when its opponent commits too many men in its attack, thereby leaving the latter’s own defenses exposed.
How does this work, exactly?
In football parlance, the space between the back four of the defense and the midfield is called ‘the hole.’ A common build up for attacks is to pass the ball into ‘the hole.’ Normally, an attacker with his back to the goal would receive the pass. He would then seek to turn the ball, or pass it to a teammate who is facing the goal. Optimally, this teammate would also be in ‘the hole,’ or he will be moving into the space behind the opposing defenders.
A very defensive formation tends to keep the space between in ‘the hole’ very tight. This denies the attacking team time and space to develop their attack. This kind of defense makes for a compact middle and is extremely difficult to break down.
Does this sound familiar? If you’re a football fan, you should know this by heart. After all, the Azkals used this to great effect in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.
Mongolia played a very defensive game versus the Azkals. Photo courtesy of S. Kieron Tan of SKT Digital Productions.
Back then, we essentially had two banks of four defenders each behind the ball, with only our strikers Ian Araneta and Phil Younghusband on the offensive end. We absorb the pressure from the attacking side, but once we gain possession, we dump the ball to our strikers who run at the opponents’ now depleted defense.
Against Mongolia, we had the advantage of playing with an extra man on the field. But the Blue Wolves did not changes their strategy even with only nine players in the outfield. If anything, it reinforced the team’s game plan.
The two banks of four defenders remained, with their attack sacrificed even further. In fact, in their set pieces, there were only a handful of Mongolians left for attack. There was a moment in the game where Mongolia had a throw which was headed away by midfielder Aly Borromeo, and no Mongolian was within five yards of him. No wonder goalkeeper Neil Etheridge wandered time and again up field, perhaps out of sheer boredom.
Sun Tzu wrote that if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
We should know the enemy by now, because it is a mirror image of the Azkals, circa December 2010.
The 101-million peso question now is: How much do we know ourselves?