Villaflor: Sense and hostility in Malaysia

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Monday, March 3, 2014


AFTER nearly four months of inactivity, the Azkals returned to the football field last March 1 in a friendly against regional rivals Malaysia.

So how did they perform? Given the circumstances, I’d say it was promising. For one, it was the debut of German-American Thomas Dooley as coach of the Philippine men’s national team.

Dooley is a retired football player who also served as assistant coach of the United States men’s team, but for his first game, much wasn’t expected from the Azkals during that match against the skilled Malaysian squad.

Surprisingly, the Azkals pulled off a decent 0-0 performance, the third straight game between the two sides that ended in a draw.

NO-NONSENSE FOOTBALL. Although Malaysia created more chances, the Azkals held their ground with pinpoint passing and quick counters that flustered their opponents.

By half-time, Dooley’s style of coaching was evident. His no-nonsense approach to the game created numerous opportunities for the Azkals, particularly in the middle of the second half.

For some 10 minutes, the Philippine team controlled the midfield and created several chances, the closest from Phil Younghusband whose shot at point blank range on the 64th was saved by the goalkeeper.

THE DOOLEY FACTOR. The Azkals’ style of play under Dooley was in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, Michael Weiss, who opted for a more passive style of direct football that depended too much on long balls.

In contrast, Dooley has organized a team with a solid midfield that efficiently creates quick, short passes during counterattacks, forcing defenders to work twice as hard. His style is also more exciting to watch.

Now if only the coach and the team can remedy those wayward crosses and pull the trigger a split-second faster to convert chances into goals.

A DEYTO REMEMBER. Without the sterling performance of goalkeeper Patrick Deyto, the Azkals would have easily conceded two goals. The Green Archers United keeper, who was clearly the man of the match, made save after brilliant save.

Following the match, memes cropped up on the Internet to celebrate the Azkals’ new hero. For example, “Walang dadaan Deyto,” in reference to the fictional wizard Gandalf’s famous line “You shall not pass.”

Deyto’s performance is keeping up with the Azkals’ reputation as having a solid selection of goalkeepers: Neil Etheridge, Roger Muller and Eduard Sacapaño.

On the other hand, seeing Deyto pushed to the limit exposed the Azkals’ weakness in the back. Rob Gier and company allowed far too many balls into dangerous territory.

Hopefully Deyto and his squad can fix this problem when they face 93rd ranked Azerbaijan tomorrow.

BIASED REF. Blind officiating is something that’s as old as the game itself, but the referee in that match was a special kind of biased.

He was quick to call a foul, including at least four yellow cards, against the Filipinos at the slightest nudge, but was as blind as a star-nosed mole each time the Malaysians manhandled the visitors.

And what about that non-call when a Malaysian defender clipped the heel of Jason de Jong who was poised to score? That clearly was a penalty. I don’t know, maybe he feared for his life, officiating in such hostile territory.

HOSTILE CROWD. Football weekend warrior Donn Rabanes, who watched the game in the MPS Stadium in Selayang, Malaysia, attested to how hostile the massive crowd was.

“I watched the game live. I thought we won’t make it alive,” said Donn on my Facebook page. The heated match was even stopped when flares and smoke bombs were thrown in the track and pitch in the 32nd minute. Donn said the ultras were behind the disruption.

“The crowd was agitated, especially the large ultras delegation. There were only 100 of us Filipinos against the 20,000 Malaysian supporters,” Donn said. “Police advised us not to go out alone.”

Tomorrow, as the Azkals face Azerbaijan in Dubai, let’s hope that our team and Filipino supporters watching the game live won’t be subjected to the same kind of safety issues. We’ll take biased officiating any day over mindless hostility.

(nsvillaflor@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 04, 2014.

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