Rise of the ‘B’ Team

WELL, what do you know? The Philippine Azkals have advanced to the semifinals of the 2018 Bangabandhu Cup. And they only needed to win their first match in Group B against Laos, 3-1.

That’s because Laos had lost its first game to hosts Bangladesh, 0-1, and has no chance of advancing to the knockout round. I expected the Azkals “B” team to advance, but not this quickly.

But if you think that the Azkals would step off the gas in their last Group B match later tonight against the hosts, you’d be mistaken. The team is here not just for an obligatory warm up but to compete.

And one couldn’ help but ask: is Azkals coach Scott Cooper shaping this B team into one competitive squad that would see action in the coming 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup? My first impression upon the release of the lineup for the Bangabandhu Cup was that Cooper was just looking for standouts whom he can include in the first team.

But watching how the B team is playing as one cohesive and effective unit, I’ve realized Cooper is up to something else. And this move to form a solid B team makes sense for a number of reasons.

One, it would give the other players a chance to prove their mettle in an international tournament. In the first match, standouts such as goalkeeper Louie Casas, Jovin Bedic, Jarvey Gayoso and captain Misagh Bahadoran have increased their chances of becoming first team regulars for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

Two, having a competitive B Team would give the core of the “A” team that will compete in the Asian Cup adequate time to practice, focus and rest leading to the tournament this Februrary in the United Arab Emirates. Also, having a solid B team addresses several logistical call up issues from overseas players, since not only can the B team’s core players fill up “vacancies,” they significantly increase the depth of the first team’s bench.

With two successive highly competitive regional tournaments that matter, one can only imagine the physical and mental toll all these matches would take on the players, not to mention injuries that keep players out of tournaments.

These concerns apparently can be addressed by forming a solid B team that directly impacts and bolsters its A team. If this is the case, Cooper and the rest of the Azkals management are doing it right.

Realizing this, I now find that the Azkals’ participation in the Bangabandhu Cup is more important than I first thought. We’re seeing an Azkals B first 11 emerging: Casas, Amani Aguinaldo, Julian Clariño, Angelo Marasigan, Hikaru Minegishi, Nathanael Alquiros, Fitch Arboleda, Marwin Angeles, Bedic, Gayoso, and Bahadoran.

I watched the livestream and replay from mycujoo.com and I liked what I saw from the B team (which, as what I’ve written in the previous column, actually has seven players from the A team that saw action in Bahrain last September).

The Azkals defenders cut the angles pretty well and they didn’t look shaky. With the few shots that went past the defense, Casas made no mistake, including a spectacular diving save minutes before halftime. Overall, the players did well for a B team at this level.


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