SO the Azkals have climbed to 129th in the latest FIFA rankings, up 11 notches from 140th.
Sure this sounds like good news for the fans, but this is little consolation for the players, Philippine coach Thomas Dooley, team manager Dan Palami and the rest of the Azkals staff, following the 2014 Challenge Cup defeat in the final.
The result was a heartbreaker, considering that it was decided by a set play – a goal off a free kick on the 59th minute – at a time when the Azkals decided to push forward following a more defensive mindset in the first half. A second place finish in a tough tournament isn’t too bad, if only a slot in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup wasn’t at stake.
On the other hand, there are plenty of positives that have come out of last week’s tournament in the Maldives.
First is that we certainly have found the coach who’s perfect for the Azkals. Dooley, who only took over the team only four months ago, is hardly a one-dimensional coach whose tactics come as a surprise.
For instance, against Palestine, many were caught off guard with the “negative” approach of the Azkals in the first half, but that’s how Dooley’s system works: a flick of the switch and the players can shift from direct or counter-attacking football to a more free-flowing attacking mode. Again, it was just unfortunate that the Palestinians converted the free kick – it would’ve been a different ball game, otherwise. But that’s football for you.
But Dooley’s greatest quality goes beyond his tactical nous: his trust in the local-based players has been the key to this drastic improvement in the Azkals game.
Consider the final: six local-based players started the match, and two were used as substitutes. In the entire tournament 13 local-based players saw action.
It’s not hard to see what Dooley did there: he is leaning more towards using more players who ply their wares in the local leagues, the United Football League in particular, and less of foreign-based ones. This approach makes sense because it will be easier for him to organize the team mostly composed of local-based players, those he can summon easily for training.
There’s just a catch, though. Dooley, in an interview last April, said what he needs is commitment from these players, who, in one way or another, are tied to club duties and other “activities” for most of the season.
Let’s see how Dooley makes these local-based players pledge 100 percent for the Philippine Azkals.