Villaflor: How about an Azkals win vs. Malaysia in Cebu?

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Monday, April 21, 2014


YOU shouldn’t be doing anything this Sunday night. No overnight stay at the beach, no hanging out in the mall, no bingeing.

This Sunday night, you should either be glued in front of a television set or, better yet, be cheering for the Azkals inside the Cebu City Sports Complex.

Because let’s face it, Face Off 2: Philippine Azkals vs. Malaysia Tigers is not match to be missed, for a few compelling reasons.

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First, the game promises end-to-end action between an emerging rivalry between two Southeast Asian powerhouses.

Second, the last three games between the two all ended in a draw: 0-0 in Selangor in
Malaysia on June 1, 2012, then 1-1 in Manila on Feb. 29, 2012, and most recently in 0-0 also in Selangor last March 1.

And finally, this Azkals team that will be seeing action on home soil – right here in our very own Cebu City – will display no-nonsense attacking football courtesy of its new coach Thomas Dooley, who has surprised the Filipino football community with his coaching style and system.

DECENT RESULTS. In his first two games since taking over the Philippine Men’s National Team, Dooley steered the team to the March 1 draw against Malaysia and four days later, 0-1 against Azerbaijan, a decent result against a much stronger side that was expected to beat the Azkals by a wide margin.

The consensus from football observers came quick: Dooley knows several things that his predecessor does not, one of which was to bring out the best of the players at his disposal.

In other words, Dooley trusts his players. Well, this is not surprising for a man who actually watches the United Football League games and scouts players for the national team.

But after the two matches against Malaysia and Azerbaijan in which the Azkals failed to hit the back of the net despite showing impressive handling of the ball, one crucial question was raised: When will Dooley’s team deliver the goals?

The question was answered in no time. The Azkals scored in their two succeeding friendlies in Doha Qatar: 3-0 against Nepal last April 11 and 1-1 against Qatari club Al Ahli SC.

Against Nepal, the goals came from UFL players Curt Dizon of Global FC and Ruben Doctora of Stallion FC, and Swiss league player Martin Steuble. Against Al Ahli, the Azkals’ lone goal came from Juan Luis Guirado who plies his trade in Spain.

THE RIGHT MOVES. One notable move Dooley made was how he shuffled the players in both games. In the Al Ahli match, only four players from the lineup against Nepal saw action. Apparently he took advantage of the friendly to fully gauge how the players perform by giving them playing time.

But with goals coming from fresh faces – Doctora and Dizon in particular – it looks like the team isn’t depending on go-to guys to score.

While the Azkals are delivering the goals that the fans crave, Dooley is getting a better idea of the players at his disposal, and the latter seem to be adjusting pretty well to their coach’s system. They are now on a roll.

Hopefully Dooley and his reinvigorated Azkals carry this momentum come April 27 against tough-as-nails Malaysia, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers will get the shock of their lives against a team that is rapidly improving with every game.

And if that happens, an Azkals win on home soil will mean the world to football fans in Cebu, who have tirelessly supported the national team during the best and worst of times.

Now that everything seems to bode well for the Azkals in the run up to their friendly this Sunday, there’s just one question left hanging: have you bought your tickets yet?

(nsvillaflor@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 22, 2014.

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