Sunday, March 13, 2011

Azkals vs. Mongolia, Leg 2 Preview


What a difference thirty days can make.

Before February 9, 2011, all talk was about how many goals the Azkals would score against Mongolia. About how we would dominate the Blue Wolves, and how we would blast them to football oblivion.

Cue a few days before March 15, 2011. Our seemingly unstoppable march to the group stages of the AFC Challenge Cup in Myanmar seems to have hit a speed bump. And worryingly, a mighty substantial speed bump, at that.

Key personnel will be missing, most notably star goalkeeper Neil Etheridge. Our inability to adapt quickly to the freezing climes is another area of concern. Due to the tragedy in Japan, team logistics going to Mongolia suddenly became a TV worthy episode of the Amazing Race, with players trying to make it on time to Mongolia .

Based on paper, we should be able to get a result against Mongolia at the very least. It was pretty evident in the first leg. We have the more talented players, we have team cohesion, we should go through. We all know, however, games are won on the pitch, and never on paper.

Mongolia has an ace up its sleeve. Perhaps the Mongolian FA was really on to something when they refused to grant PFF’s request to move the venue of the second leg to the Philippines. Now, it feels like we are walking straight into a trap set up by the Blue Wolves in Ulaan Bator.

It would perhaps be wise of Coach Weiss to reconsider his team tactics, most especially for this game. To set out the Azkals on an attacking formation for this game, may be to our own undoing. Similar to how we used our tropical weather to wear down the Mongolia defence and score two goals, the canny Blue Wolves must fancy their chances to do the same to us, this time in freezing weather conditions.

Note that our two goals against them came at the end of each half, where their defences might be a wee bit tired already. This time around, if we set out to attack, we might run out of oxygen to defend for 90 minutes. Mongolia would be quick to exploit this and we might pay the price if and when it comes to extra time.

The hallmark of this Azkal team just three months ago was staunch and tight defending. I see no reason why we can’t return to this form for this game. Defend stoutly, but not necessarily parking the proverbial team bus. Give the attack a chance, but not like how we pushed forward in Panaad. Commit some people in the final third, just to keep the Mongolian defence decent, and their keeper something to think about.

After all, the Indonesians slipped only two goals against us in 180 minutes of intense football in Bung Karno. I suppose it won’t be too much of a stretch to keep out the mighty Mongolia for 90 minutes in their stadium.

So much has been said about Neil’s absence. However, the blow might be more of a psychological nature. The opposing attack looking at the team sheet certainly won’t relish going up against a third choice English Premier League goalkeeper, but will certainly fancy their chances against the Philippine United Football League stopper.

In Edward we trust, so the Azkals say. Privately, everyone would prefer Neil. Look for Mongolia to test him, and test him early on in the game.

All eyes will be on Edward Sacapano to see if he can adequately fill the boots of Etheridge. He should be good enough  to get us past Mongolia. Myanmar, Palestine and Bangladesh, however, are another story.

Ray Jonsson should slot back into his leftback slot, with Simon Greatwich getting a start in central midfield. Substitutes will be the key here, as we might very well need a pair of fresh legs deep into this game. Jason Sabio’s first partnership with Aly Borromeo in central defence will need to be spot on. Here’s hoping they do arrive on time in Mongolia as they have only a few training sessions left to get it right on game day.

De Jong would again be crucial in stopping Mongolia’s attacks. How quickly he adapts to the climate with only two days to acclimatize remains to be seen.

Scoring duties will again fall to our two strikers, Araneta and Phil Younghusband. This would certainly be a good time for Ian to break his recent scoring drought.

Probable Starting Lineup : 


del Rosario, Sabio, Borromeo, Jonsson, 

James Younghusband, Jason de Jong, Simon Greatwich, Chieffy Caligdong, 

Ian Araneta, Phil Younghusband.

Personal Prediction : 1-0 to the Azkals.


UPDATES : Due to the antics of the Mongolian FA, thereby delaying Ray Jonsson's arrival and Jason de Jong's confirmed non-participation in Leg 2, here are the revised probable starting lineups : 


del Rosario    Sabio      Borromeo    Jonsson

JYounghusband  Jaugan   S. Greatwich    Caligdong

                Ian Araneta PYounghusband

How quickly Ray acclimatizes and how jetlagged he will be will be a very important factor to consider. Coach Weiss might choose to leave him on the bench and bring him in the last 30 minutes. In which case, Roel Gener would probably start in his place.

This formation however, would be very, very interesting indeed : 


del Rosario    Sabio      Borromeo    Gener

JYounghusband   S. Greatwich    Jonsson    Caligdong

                Ian Araneta PYounghusband


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