Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Racism has NO place in football. Or Anywhere Else.

Appalled by the very recent spate of racism on the pitch. Does this still have its place on the football field? Or anywhere else?

First instance was on March 24 when Roberto Carlos' new club Anzhi Makhachkala took on Zenit St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg. A racist fan thrust a half peeled banana to Roberto Carlos. Now, this sort of behavior is totally unacceptable. Are we still in the 18th century?

Idiot: Roberto Carlos was taunted by a fan holding a banana in Russia this week

This raises further concern on Russia's ability to stamp out this sort of behavior in time for the FIFA 2018 World Cup.

The second instance was when Brazil was playing Scotland in a friendly at Emirates Stadium in London. A banana was thrown from the crowd which seemed to target Brazilian international, Neymar. IF this was done outside the football pitch, someone probably would've been arrested. Seems like there is a different set of rules for football fans behaving badly at stadiums.

Neymar-Brazil-Barry Bannan-Scotland cropped

These banana throwing incidents have no place in football. Even when the target has as outrageous a hairdo as Neymar. 

Here's a video of the incident : 

Come on guys. Lets all act like human beings. Civilized ones. No place for these sorts of things anywhere, be it the football field or off the field.

Incidentally, and rather unfortunately, these are not isolated instances. Real Madrid's fullback Marcelo are not spared, as was Barcelona and Inter's Samuel Eto'o. As you can see in this video, Eto'o was so upset that he wanted to leave the game. 'No mas!'

The worst thing there was, as Eto'o pointed out, the color of his skin is no different from the skin color of his opponent, Alvaro. But Eto'o was targeted because they were the away team. 

Boo the opposing players all you want, but to make racist chants, monkey noises, to throw bananas (peeled and half-peeled) onto the pitch?

That deserves a straight red card.

Photo Credits : 

Roberto Carlos pic : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1369378/Russian-racism-shame-Roberto-Carlos-demands-action-banana-throwing-incident.html

Neymar pic : http://www.mirrorfootball.co.uk/news/International-friendly-Scotland-0-2-Brazil-Neymar-complains-that-banana-was-thrown-at-him-article717728.html

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Only Option Left for the Azkals : WIN

This is it, folks. It all boils down to one more game for the Azkals. 90 minutes of football + injury time.

The table looks like this as of the moment. 

            W       D          L            Points       GD

PAL      1        1             0           4            +2     
BANG   1       0              1           3             0      
PHL      0        2             0           2              0     
MYA    0        1             1           1              -2     

The next game will be held March 25, Friday. And it will be held at the same time, to prevent collusion among teams.

25 March 2011 15:30
BANGLADESH - Philippines

25 March 2011 15:30

Things to note here :

1,) We will be playing in a different stadium, as Myanmar will be using its 'home' stadium. This may turn out to be a good thing for the Azkals. Can a change of stadium translate to a win in Myanmar?

2.) Kickoff times will be synchronized.

3.) Myanmar rooted to the bottom of the group. Let me rephrase, HOST Myanmar who, as rumor would have it, battled hard to get hosting rights, mired at the Bottom of Group A. Their very slim chance of progression consists of winning BIG against Palestine, and hoping we can only draw against Bangladesh. Meaning, their progress is beyond their control.

4.) Palestine have one foot on the door, as they need only to draw to qualify.

Scenarios for the Azkals to go through : 

A.) Azkals win. It doesn't get any simpler than that. We win, we will get 5 points, which will be good enough for at least second place. Whatever happens in the other game, we still go through.That is the most straightforward solution you can find.

Sample table : (Azkals win, Myanmar wins)

            W       D          L            Points       GD

PHL      1        2             0           5              
PLE      1        1             1           4            
MYA    1        1             1           4              
BANG   1       0              2           3             

Sample table : (Azkals win, Palestine wins)

            W       D          L            Points       GD

PLE      2        1             0           7            
PHL      1        2             0           5              

BANG   1       0              2           3             
MYA    0        1             2           1              

Sample table : (Azkals win, Palestine and Myanmar draw)

            W       D          L            Points       GD

PHL      1        2             0           5                   

PAL      1        2             0           5                 
BANG   1       0              2           3                   
MYA    0        2             1           2                   

B.) See Letter A. 

On the flipside, how would our opponents Bangladesh approach this game? 

They have three points to their credit now. If anything, their win against host Myanmar boosted their chances of qualifying, wherein a defeat to Myanmar would have eliminated them from contention (hence they might have taken it easy against us.)

Bangladesh cannot approach the game on Friday looking for a draw. Myanmar might win big in their game against Palestine, which would leave all three teams with 4 points each. Hence, they would be looking for the win against the Azkals, as well. A win would give them 6 points and guaranteed qualification.

Hence, on Friday, we will have two teams slugging it out for the win. The Azkals being the more desperate of the two, as for Bangladesh a draw might be enough for them. No less than a win for us will do.

What do we know about the Bangladesh team? 
Here is a great piece from The Football Palestine Blog :

Challenge Cup Squad: Bangladesh's senior side hasn't played an official match under newly appointed Croatian manager Robert Rubcic. Their last games were the 2010 AFC Challenge Cup finals where they shocked 2006 winner Tajikstan in the opening game only to lose their next two games. The Olympic side recently lost to Kuwait over two legs (0-2, 0-3) and that is where the majority of the players will be drawn from. Rubcic has had some sharp criticism for the older players omitted from the squad.

And a note on Bangladesh' key player : 

Key Player: It would seem that Bangladesh are in the midst of a rebuilding phase. Many of the experienced players included in the squad haven't been at their best with their clubs. The inclusion of many U23 players by Rubcic is an attempt to retain some chemistry in the side. Rubcic has admitted that the other sides in the group are much stronger than his and is expected to set his team up to play on the counter. If the team is to stand any chance of qualifying it will need its 23 year-old star and captain Mohammed Ameli to rediscover his form.
Time for Weiss to earn his euros, but also time for the Azkals to step up on Friday. 

I wonder what Coach Weiss' strategy would be. Bangladesh knows we need to win. They might set themselves up to hit us on the counter when we commit too many men forward. The Azkals Coaching staff have to get this right. More on tactical discussions soon.


On a side note, I am glad that these scenarios are presenting themselves, as this gives a crash course to all Azkal fans on how the group stages of football tournaments work.

Still on another side note, our only goalscorers Chris Greatwich and Phil Younghusband from the 2010 Suzuki Cup are unavailable for Friday. 

Who will take up the scoring cudgels for the team? 

My Starting Eleven vs Palestine

This is my starting formation tonight against Palestine :


Gener      Anton         Gier          Jonsson

               Aly       Simon

 James YH         Angel          Chieffy


Yes, I would name an unchanged side vs Palestine.

These eleven players just had the chance to play together for the FIRST TIME against Myanmar. They barely had time to gel and know each other's moves. They had no benefit of a lengthy training session, and most probably just had tactical lessons with Coach Weiss with a blackboard.

That Football, with eleven men on the pitch, is obviously a team sport. More so because, unlike basketball, we make through balls and passes to spaces where we expect our teammates to be. There lies the fact that players need to know which side their teammates prefer to receive their passes, or if a high ball came in, which defender would take care of the clearance.

Palestine is the proverbial darkhorse in the group. Their low FIFA rank belies the fact that they play good football, if given the chance. Their football has suffered thanks to politics.

Therefore, I really don't expect Jerry Lucena to make the starting eleven. Our starting eleven for Myanmar should be given a chance. Plus, did he just arrived in hot and humid Myanmar from Denmark yesterday? Fatigue, jetlag, and weather adjustments might take a toll.

I really feel that the Azkals should always preach safety first, and keeping clean sheets. With the way we are continuously changing players, a very intrepid formation might leave us on our backside, trailing the enemy.

Key substitutions would be : Jason Sabio if either Ray/Roel/Anton gets in trouble or fatigued or Jerry Lucena for that dose of inspiration that we might need at the latter stages. Becite/Guerridon may come on for a tiring Angel.

A very interesting, and attacking substitution, if we are chasing the game would be :
Jerry Lucena for Ian Araneta.

This would leave Angel as our striker with Jerry behind him. The front four of Chieffy, James, Jerry and Angel would be supported by an advanced Simon Greatwich, leading to a 4-1-4-1 formation.


Gener      Anton         Gier          Jonsson

James YH   Simon     Lucena      Chieffy


PS. Reading some criticism in the forums regarding the performace of our players against Myanmar.

Only have one question for you : Did you see the game?

Scenarios for the Azkals in Group A

As it stands, GROUP A looks as follows :

             W       D          L            Points

PAL      1        0             0           3
MYA    0        1             0           1
PHL      0        1             0           1
BANG  0        0             1           0

The next games are as follows : 

23 March 2011 15:30
Philippines - PALESTINE

23 March 2011 18:00

25 March 2011 15:30
BANGLADESH - Philippines

25 March 2011 15:30

IF we draw vs Palestine, and Myanmar wins, say 2-0 against Bangladesh, the table would look like : 

             W       D          L            Points

PAL      1        1             0           4
MYA    1        1             0           4
PHL      0        2             0           2
BANG  0        0             2           0

This would leave us in a very, very precarious situation, as both Palestine and Myanmar play their last game against each other. 

IF they played to a draw in that one, and IF we win against Bangladesh in the last day, three teams would end up with five (5) points each, and it would be down to goal difference from the aforementioned three teams. We can then only automatically go through if EITHER of them win and we beat Bangladesh. Meaning, it is beyond our control.

What IS within our control, however, is tonight's game. Dare I say it? WE MUST BEAT PALESTINE to make our chances of qualification that much higher.


IF WE WIN Tonight, and Myanmar wins vs Bangladesh :

             W       D          L            Points

MYA    1        1             0           4
PHL      1        1             0           4
PAL      1        0             1           3
BANG  0        0             2           0

We control our own qualification destiny going to the last game against Bangladesh.

Exciting times for Azkal fans.
The Azkals could do us a favor by getting all three points vs Palestine.
Lest we crave for some cardiac moments on Friday.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

First Thoughts as Azkals draw Myanmar. AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers

First thoughts as the Azkals drew 1-1 with Myanmar.

1.) Have we potentially dropped two crucial points?

2.) Will we see another coming of the 4-2-3-1 formation? Exactly how effective was that formation?

3.) Was Ian Araneta taken off as a precaution, or is he still hampered by the recent injury?

4.) The Azkals were the ones who made equalizing stoppage time goals. Now the shoe is on the other foot. We should be very wary of this, especially coming in the last stages of the game with a slender one goal lead.

5.) Palestine's low FIFA Ranking is a decoy. They seem to be our big threat together with Myanmar for the top two spots in our Group.

6.) Crucially, Palestine scored 'only' two goals against Bangladesh. We play Bangladesh in our last game. IF it comes to goal difference, we would know how many goals we need to knock in.

7.) Will fatigue come into play? Five games in three days is no joke/ We complained of the Arctic temperatures in Mongolia? Careful of what you wish for. Pitch side reporters complaining of 'heat'. Again, crucially, we play ALL our three games at 3:30 pm Myanmar time.  We are the only country in Group A to do so. Conspiracy theory? A later kickoff time (6pm MYA time) would give us much needed relief from playing in stifling heat.

8.) The Jerry Lucena factor. I don't think he was brought in to play one of the two midfield shields. Nor was he brought in to warm the bench. Ergo, where will we put him in the lineup?

9.) Would the answer be : Bench Ian/Yanti. Put Guirado up front, with Lucena behind him?

10.) How did Simon Greatwich do as a midfield shield?

11.) Hope we don't do a 'Singapore' and draw the first game (via allowing a stoppage time equalizer by the opponent) and go on to............*let's remain positive*

12.) Can you imagine life without twitter?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Azkals Strategy : The 4-2-3-1 formation

}}              vs                 

This first appeared on March 21,2011 on the award-winning sports blog, Fire Quinito.  

News reports coming in from Myanmar, thanks to Craig Burrows ofPinoyFootball.com, suggest that the Azkals will employ the 4-2-3-1 formation later tonight in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers against Myanmar. This is a more defensive variation of the 4-5-1 midfield formation. 

The projected line-up tonight would be: 






In this line-up, Simon Greatwich and Aly Borromeo essentially act as defensive midfielders to protect the back four. This grants freedom to the attacking four up front to do their business up field. This is a slight deviation of our previous formations, where only Jason de Jong was used as a defensive shield.

This is an interesting formation by Coach Weiss, no doubt influenced by the defeat to Mongolia. Ray Jonsson returns to the left-back slot where which he was very effective. Roel Gener, a versatile utility man, will start at right-back, ahead of Jason Sabio.

Anton del Rosario,no stranger to central defense, will partner Rob Gier who is back after missing the Mongolia game.

Neil Etheridge will be back on goal, and it would be a huge psychological boost for the Azkals.

Obviously, Coach Weiss is taking a very conservative and defensive approach to this game, a bit of a contrast to the attacking style he installed against Mongolia. Having two midfield shields will help deflect Myanmar’s attacks and keep the spaces in midfield tight. 

His strategy may be to absorb the pressure of Myanmar’s attacks, dispossess them of the ball, and dump to either James or Chieffy on the wings for the counter-attack.

Back to the tropics after chilling conditions in Ulan Bator, our speed should now not be compromised. Angel Guirado provides a very interesting option to the Azkals. Majority of the Azkals fans have yet to see him play, and have no idea how he can perform on the pitch. Neither do the Myanmar scouts, which is good news.

Guirado occupies the very crucial central midfield slot, where no Azkal has yet to put a stamp on since the absence of Chris Greatwich. Will Guirado be a 6’3 target man for the crosses of James and Chieffy? Or will he be able to use his size to dribble his way to the goal? We will soon find out.

With Phil Younghusband injured, the pressure is squarely on the shoulders of Ian Araneta to deliver. In the last Suzuki Cup, he came very close on many occasions to score against Myanmar. For the Azkals sake, we do hope he nicks one in today.

Aly Borromeo as a midfield anchor is a good choice, but I certainly hope Simon Greatwich is able to do the job alongside him. Jason de Jong would certainly get the nod over him if Jason were available. 

Being the literal 'away' side, this is the most suitable formation for the Azkals as this presents a 'safety first' approach to the game. How the players adapt to this continuous changing of formations remains to be seen.
Interestingly, the 4-2-3-1 formation is the very same formation Spain used to win the FIFA World Cup in 2010, with Sergi Busquets and Xabi Alonso as the midfield shield. This formation was also used by Holland, Germany, Ghana and Brazil in South Africa. Count the Azkals as one of the new converts of this formation.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to Qualify to the AFCCC w/o winning TWO Games

Was listening to the news yesterday night, and I almost fell off my chair when the sports reporter announced that we need TWO WINS to go through to the AFC Challenge Cup 2012.

That's utterly false, and really one should investigate further before reporting fallacies on primetime TV.

We CAN go through with ONE WIN and TWO DRAWS.

Here's how it works :
The top two teams go through. But how do we determine the top two teams?

One win = 3 points.
One draw = 1 point.
One loss = 0 points.

The top two teams are the teams with the most POINTS after the three game qualilfying tournament.

Here is the complete schedule for our group :

21 March 2011 15:30
MYANMAR - Philippines 

21 March 2011 18:00
PALESTINE - Bangladesh

23 March 2011 15:30
Philippines - PALESTINE

23 March 2011 18:00

25 March 2011 15:30
BANGLADESH - Philippines

25 March 2011 15:30

Here is an example of how we can progress : 

vs Myanmar -- DRAW.
vs Palestine -- DRAW.
vs Bangladesh -- WIN.

We would have a total of 5 points.

NOW, depending on other team's results, that MAY be enough to get us through.

Sample Results : 

21 March 2011 15:30
MYANMAR - Philippines  : Draw.

21 March 2011 18:00
PALESTINE - Bangladesh : Draw.

23 March 2011 15:30
Philippines - PALESTINE : Draw.

23 March 2011 18:00

25 March 2011 15:30
BANGLADESH - Philippines : PHI WIN.

25 March 2011 15:30

In the above scenario, the standings will be :

                     W       L        D       Points

Myanmar       2       0          1         7
Philippines     1       0         2         5
Palestine       0       1         2         2
Bangladesh   0       2         1         1

In this case, Myanmar and the Philippines (the top two teams) go through.
The Azkals go through even though we drew two games and won only one game.

This should dispel the notion that we SHOULD win two games to do so.
OF COURSE, winning two games would make the task so much easier, but winning one (and drawing two) COULD be enough, depending on the other results.

As Fire Quinito pointed out, we did only win one game back in December in the Suzuki Cup (and drew two), and we went on to the semi-finals.


So please, don't misinform the general public. Let's educate them on how football works. 
It may be a bit difficult. Coming from a basketball point of view, what is a freakin 'draw'?
But this Football 101 should be done.

For us to be true footballing nation, as Sev Sarmenta said.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Football Analysis : The Azkals take a step back against Mongolia in Ulan Bator

Note : This first appeared in the award-winning sports blog, Fire Quinito on March  17, 2011.

In the end, we lost the battle, but we won the war. But not before we had some unnecessarily tense moments out there.

Did the weather play a major factor in the Azkals loss to Mongolia in the second leg of its AFC Challenge Cup playoff in Ulan Bator? Absolutely. 

Experts say that it’s easier to play from cold weather to hot weather, than it is the other way around. We don’t like to make excuses and I am sure the sub-zero weather provides a very, very convenient excuse. But, in this case, let us cut the Azkals some slack.

Of the Azkals who played in Mongolia, only Ray Jonsson is based in Europe, where this kind of cold weather is the norm. The Younghusbands, although half-British, are now based in Manila. Some of the Azkals may have experienced cold weather before, but most of them have not had the chance to play a knockout game of football under those conditions.

We also need to remember the tragedy in Japan, where the Azkals trained prior to the game. Witnessing first-hand the death and destruction around you was surely harrowing, and it would be difficult to focus on the game. After all, the substantial loss of life and the destruction of the earthquake and tsunamis put the game in perspective, doesn’t it? Not to mention all the issues the Azkals encountered en route to Mongolia: lost luggage, delayed and diverted flights, missing passports, and even missing players.

That said, could the Azkals have played better, given the abovementioned conditions? Absolutely.

Going to a second leg, with a two-goal cushion, the Azkals already were in the driver’s seat in this tie. The early goal in the first five minutes provided the Azkals with a dream start. This further increased our lead to 3-0 on aggregate, and gave the Mongolians an even deeper hole to climb out of.

Unfortunately, we did not settle down after that goal. We did not hold the ball, or keep possession long enough. Instead, we played as if we were the ones chasing the game, and they were the ones with a three goal lead. It took almost 60 minutes into the game for us to warm-up and string together coherent passes, it seemed. In hindsight, could it have been that we were too confident and complacent?

We left wide open spaces at the back for our opponent to exploit, whereas we could’ve kept it nice and tight and made life miserable for an already desperate Mongolia. Instead, we conceded a cheap first goal, which gave them hope. 

I lost count of the number of times I thought, ‘We were lucky there!’ That statement couldn’t have been truer than during midway through the second half. The Blue Wolves, leading 2-1, hit the crossbar with the goal at their mercy. We got off the hook in that instance. A 3-1 lead for them would’ve still put us through, but we would really have endured more tense moments down the stretch.

Coach Weiss might have wanted to continue with his new look attacking formation, but in my humble opinion, with a three goal lead away from home and in freezing temperatures, we should have sat tight, defended stoutly, and hit them on the counter – which was how we played last December. 

Not only were playing with our second-choice second choice goalkeeper between the sticks, this was also the first official pairing in central defence of Aly Borromeo and Jason Sabio. All signs point to the fact that we should’ve just kept our shape and defended our lead, our new attacking style of play be damned.

Mongolia had a brilliant strategy going into the two legs: Defend stoutly away from home and minimize damage in an unfriendly environment (Panaad); and attack, attack, attack in their home turf, where the opponent will likely freeze up from the unfamiliar weather (Ulaan Bator). The Azkals’ game plan, on the other hand, seemingly was just to attack at every opportunity, regardless of the situation.

Jason Sabio had an impressive debut last February 9, but he was very uncomfortable in this game. He was culpable and directly responsible for the second Mongolia goal. There were missed calls for offside in the first goal, but ultimately the defence should’ve done better. For the second goal, he looked off the pace, and had to pull down the Mongolian attacker. He was a very lucky boy not to be sent off for that challenge.

The million dollar question after the game was : Would Neil Etheridge have done a better job than Eduard Sacapano?

He would’ve been more accustomed to the cold, being based in London. His commanding frame would really have been an asset for the Azkal defense, plus he’s a bonafide rising star in the Barclays Premier League, being the third choice keeper for Fulham FC. In contrast, Eduard brought with him his experience on the field, albeit for the local United Football League in the Philippines. 

For the first Mongolia goal, would Neil have rushed out to grab the loose ball, thereby distracting Donorov Lumbengarav and preventing the goal? Neil has a penchant for rushing out of his box and mixing it up with opposing strikers. For the second Mongolia goal, would Neil have been able to catch the shot cleanly, or would he have pushed it away for a harmless corner? Eduard tried to snatch the ball, and it bounced back to the penalty taker for the easy tap in.

Eduard, to his credit, actually saved the spot kick. He was also very calm on the ball, especially in the second half. This Neil vs. Eduard debate could go on and on. Suffice to say, I am sure everyone is looking forward to Neil coming back in goal for the qualifying stages in Myanmar.

Coach Rudy del Rosario said it in the panel: With the jittery first half showing of our back four, wouldn’t it have been a ‘Weiss’ call to move Anton del Rosario to central defence to partner Aly Borromeo? After all, these two guys have known each other for a very long time, on and off the pitch. Anton del Rosario actually plays Central Defence for his club Kaya FC, so it wouldn’t be a new position to him.

Jason Sabio has not developed an understanding with Aly Borromeo yet. This kind of understanding is evident when Rob Gier and Aly anchored the defense in Panaad. Rob would track back whenever Aly joined the attack. This kind of understanding takes time to develop, time which Jason and Aly did not have going into Ulan Bator.

Roel Gener for me was the Man of the Match. A versatile right-footed player, he held the left back spot with aplomb, frequently disrupting Mongolia’s attack. Time and again, he thwarted Mongolia’s attack on their right, and he got a red shirt thrown on him from the crowd for all his troubles.

Simon Greatwich’s greatest contribution to the game was his yellow card for his two-footed tackle on 59 minutes, which was very poor from Simon. Occupying the central midfield slot, he should’ve been more influential. Time to bounce back in Myanmar!

Chieffy Caligdong was again a livewire down the left flank. His surging runs paved the way for numerous half chances. His decision making, though, is sometimes a bit suspect. You would not be very far from the truth to say that he went for glory a few times, when making the extra pass to a teammate would’ve been the easier and the correct option.

Ian Araneta still hasn’t broken his scoring drought, but he deserves more service than he is getting now. Remember he just came off an injury that caused him to miss club games for Air Force Rider in the UFL. His work rate is still top notch, and he almost scored a goal from nowhere in the second half.

Coach Weiss has got his work cut out for him. Now is the time for him to earn his euros. He has to build the team around the ‘team’ concept once again. The problem with media (and not just locally) is that we celebrate the goal scorers, but we often neglect the people who do the assisting, the tackling, the dirty job. This is crucial, especially when it is more practical to pass to an open teammate rather than shoot for a goal that would make the highlight reels.

This defeat should serve us in good stead in the long run. Not a few people have commented that the Azkals have been overrated and given way too much attention. This may have gotten into their heads, and perhaps a defeat here is a necessary evil to bring the high-flying Azkals back down to earth. This should provide a reality check that defeat to a nation ranked way below them in the FIFA Standings is very possible, with the wrong attitude.

Hopefully, this is just a classic case of one step backward and two steps forward en route to the AFC Challenge Cup in 2012.

Credits to Coach Rudy del Rosario for the insightful inputs. Let's support the Homeless World Cup Philippine Team!