Amid much excitement and anticipation, the Philippine Azkals took a stumble in their opening game at the 2022 TriNations Series in Singapore last Wednesday night.
With the crowd barely warming up their seats and most of us here in the country still looking for a link to watch the game live, the Malaysian took the early lead with a solo effort by Akhyar Rashid just three minutes into the game.
Twenty one minutes later, it was 2-0 in favor of the Harimau after Rashid got his brace of the match.
The Azkals look dazed and not in sync against a ready, organized and defense-oriented Malaysian side. With not enough time to practice and establish rapport among themselves, the Azkals were simply outclassed in the opening half of the game.
They managed to play a lot better in the second half, but it was not enough to overhaul the two-goal-lead by the Malaysians.
At first glance, the 2-0 defeat is really disappointing. For Azkals team manager Dan Palami, however, there were several takeaways from the game.
Palami explained that if you consider the primary goal of the Azkals participating in the mini-tournament against Malaysia and Singapore, there were so many invaluable lessons learned in the loss against Malaysia.
“This is in preparation for the June Asian Cup qualifiers, so we need to test players and the system. This is the reason why in the first 11, we have two debutants at the center back. We wanted to see how three Filipinos with Spanish descent would fare and guide each other. We also saw the system of playing three at the back,” Palami said.
He also said that implementing a new formation or system may take sometime for the players to learn and know by heart. A luxury that the time doesn’t have right now.
“We will never have the time because in international football, we only get the players during the FIFA windows and as you can see, most of the players arrived only two days before the game against Malaysia. Some of them were coming from different time zones like Stephan Schrock, for example, who has yet to get some sleep but played anyway,” Palami said.
Aside from this, the Malaysians have been in camp for the last 10 days because they shortened their domestic league and allowed the players to join the national team earlier. Compared to the Malaysians, the Azkals, technically had their game together after quite sometime.
But Palami is not using these concerns as excuses for the 2-0 loss to Malaysia.
“Malaysia played really well. But we know now that for these types of players, three at the back will not work. So we can now finetune and refine the system that it will cater to the players that we have. But first, before we can do that, we need to see how they are right now,” he added.
Palami admitted that the team may need to reboot and go back to the drawing board because the players are not familiar with having three at the back and time is no longer on their side.
“You need to look at it from the point of view of the objective of the camp. I’d rather do the fine tuning now than do the fine tuning in June when we were already in the tournament,” Palami insisted.
He also admitted that he was disappointed that the much awaited Azkals debut of Gerrit Holtmann didn’t push through. The VfL Bochum and German Bundesliga spitfire failed to join the team after contracting COVID-19 just days before leaving for Singapore.
“I really wanted him to make his debut but I think he is as disappointed as I am. But we can’t control events.
Unfortunately he and several of his teammates tested positive so we have to take the bitter pill and move on.Fortunately, he is the player that you don’t have to test anymore because we know he can really play,” Palami said.
Contrary to what many believe, Palami maintained the current players now in Singapore is not the strongest Azkals line-up yet. Aside from Holtman, two more players were not also able to fly because of COVID protocols. Some players too were not able to come due to the strict requirements by the Singaporean government which is also the main reason why Scott Cooper is again missing in the sidelines.
Palami made it clear that there is no reason to worry just because the team lost to Malaysia.
“No need to push the panic button. We need to look at the game based on the objectives of this camp. We need to check out the players and check out the system that might work for us. Now after the first game, we know better as well.”
The team has six days to make the necessary changes before they face Singapore on March 29 and Palami expects a better performance from the Azkals now that the coaching staff knows more about the players, especially the new ones.
“We’ve seen the players. I’m not in a position to really evaluate them because I’m not the coach. But I think our coaches would have seen what they wanted from the players who played and I think in the next game you’ll see the changes being made to adapt to the players and the system. This is the only chance that we have so that we don’t want to go into the June qualifiers coming in blind in terms of which players to bring and which system to play,” Palami said.
Palami is also not taking for granted the disappointment of the Azkals faithful who were very vocal about the loss against Malaysia.
“I understand how the fans feel, but they should know that our main objective is to qualify for the Asian Cup and to qualify we need to test players. We need to pick up the system that’s best suited for the type of players that we have.
And this is why we have friendlies and the games will expose our weaknesses and allow us to study further how best toproceed in terms of player selection and in terms of formation,” he added.
I can totally relate to what Palami meant. Life, just like football, is full of tests and challenges that is why we need to discern with much thought the choices which will help us get through these difficult times and with our country facing a bleak future due to the mistakes of the past.
Case in point is the forthcoming elections. We need to test those applying to become our next president as early as now. Not in June when the real game or work begins.
Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!
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