6 thoughts before a friendly

SINCE I wrote this column a few hours before Azkals vs. Bahrain kickoff (that means last night), a few thoughts came to mind:

1. How would new coach Scott Cooper fare in his first international assignment with the Azkals? Plucked as replacement to Terry Butcher when the latter quit his post barely two months after a much ballyhooed appointment, Cooper isn’t exactly a stranger to the Azkals way as he was senior team adviser and assistant coach alongside Butcher. But would less than two months with the team create an impact in the Azkals camp?

2. Little is known about Cooper when it comes to national teams, but he’s had success at the club level in the region. As coach of Buriram United in 2013, he steered the Thai club to the quarterfinals of the AFC Champions League, an astonishing feat for an “unfancied side.” A Fifa report praised Buriram under Cooper for its “fluent attacking play leading to a number of high-profile scalps.” Question is, can Cooper weave the same magic to take the Azkals to the next level?

3. Under Coach Thomas Dooley, the Azkals made history last March when it qualified for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time. For four years, Dooley honed the Azkals into an attacking team. There was just one problem: the Azkals couldn’t pull the trigger in a number of crucial matches. The pressure on Cooper would be to turn the Azkals into an attacking team that scores goals, just like what he did with Buriram, which averaged 3.1 goals per game while keeping a solid defense under his gaze.

4. An Azkals win or draw in the friendly would prop up its Fifa ranking, which now uses the ELO method following two years of development. Fifa, on its website, explains that “Elo ratings have been used in other sports for decades,” and its about time football’s top governming body adopted such a method. Going into the AFC Asian Cup with a higher ranking will give the Azkals a psychological boost. As of the Aug. 16 ranking, the Philippines stands at 115 (the second highest Southeast Asian team next to Vietnam at 101).

5. All eyes will be on star goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who was expected to join the team in his first international game as an English Premier League player. Etheridge has been sensational early on in the league, and his teammates would be more than glad to know that Etheridge has their back. With a solid man behind the sticks, Cooper can focus on buttressing his defense and sharpening their attacks.

6. After a long absence -- no thanks to a rift with Dooley -- prodigal Azkal Stephan Schrock will be a welcome presence in midfield. Schrock has been stellar in the Philippines Football League, not just as a pivotal cog in the Ceres-Negros engine but racking up goals as well. For sure, he will gel perfectly with Ceres mates Patrick Reichelt, Manny and Mike Ott, and hopefully also with the rest of the team.


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