The Philippine Azkals opened their bid in the 3rd and final qualifiers of the 2023 Asian Cup in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia with a 0-0 draw against Yemen.
Our side controlled 63% of ball possession, had more passes – 478 to 256, and had one more attempt as compared to their opponents. Despite much hope and effort against the Yemenis, the Azkals failed on one important stat line: goals made.
A fact that even team manager Dan Palami was quick to point out after the game.
Palami says the team was up in almost every statistical aspect of the game, even on offsides, but simply couldn’t make the breakthrough goal against Yemen.
“It was a tough first game for the Azkals. We did play well. We had most of the possessions and we controlled the game. Of course, there were some instances where we got caught in the counters, but overall, it was a good game. But there’s only one stat that matters in this game – that is the scoreline, which we could not exploit. It clearly shows that we need more firepower on top if we want to be successful in this tournament or in the future,” Palami said.
Palami is hoping that the arrival of Gerrit Holtmann, the VfL Bochum winger in the German Bundesliga, yesterday will help address this concern for the Azkals. That is, if he can adjust fast to the the current conditions in Ulaanbaatar.
“The adjustment will be difficult for him. It’s always difficult for international players to play in inferior conditions. Not necessarily [with] the team, but more on the pitch itself because it’s not ideal and the players find it difficult. I hope he will be able to adjust easily,” Palami added.
Palami is also not surprised that Azkals’ coach Thomas Dooley started youngsters Oliver Bias, Jefferson Tabinas, Sandro Reyes and Oskari Kekkonen against Yemen. He says Dooley is not afraid to use young players especially in big games.
“In my experience with him that’s how (Daisuke) Sato and Amani (Aguinaldo) made their debuts—they were 17 and 18, I think, at that time. I know already, having worked with them in ADT (Azkals Development Team), how well they play. The good thing really is we could say that the new generation of players have stepped up and are ready to take on senior level matches,” Palami explained.
Palami expects better results from the team in its next two games, which would be quite challenging after Palestine took a close 1-0 win, courtesy of a penalty, against Mongolia last Wednesday.
While Palami is optimistic about the Azkals’ chances against the host team, Dooley, on the other hand, remains cautious against the Mongolian side. He admits not knowing much about the team except of what he has seen in their game against the heavily-favored Palestine squad.
“It was a very interesting game to watch. Mongolia, so to speak, parked the bus the infant of the penalty box. They played with five defenders. In back line, they had sometimes three most of the time for players in front of the back five and they had one play up front. It is a very, very physical team and they are 100% fit. They are running like crazy and and fighting there. They did a god job. They were very dangerous,” Dooley said.
Except for minor adjustments, Dooley says he might stick to the same lineup that he used against Yemen tomorrow against Mongolia.
“I will change maybe a little bit on one or two positions, but it’s not 100% clear,” Dooley said.
As of now, Dooley is keeping his cards close to his chest knowing that the Azkals need to win against Mongolia to keep their hopes of advancing to the Asian Cup tournament proper alive.
Just like Palami, Dooley is elated that Holtmann is with the team at last. He says his team is complete despite not having all the players he wanted to be in Ulaanbaatar. Dooley says he has already spoken to Holtmann yesterday, while the team was having breakfast. And the newest Azkal and current Bundesliga star is every excited to play for the Philippines. Dooley says knowing this is very amazing.
While the anticipation for Holtmann to finally play with the Azkals is great and fans’ hopes are sky-high, Dooley is again asking everyone to manage their expectations.
“That we are going to score a lot of goals because he is a Bundesliga player, that is wrong. Because he needs time like everyone else. The players don’t know him. He doesn’t know his teammates. There is a time change and he just arrived from a 14 to 15 hour flight,” Dooley explained.
Dooley, however, will start Holtmann against Mongolia if plans push through.
“That is for sure. That’s why he is coming , he wants to play for us and even if he is not 100%, I want him to play and maybe he can decide on how he feels on how long he wants to play,” Dooley added.
Palami is confident Dooley and the rest of the team will be able to make the necessary adjustments come game time against the unpredictable host. He says he expects a better offensive attacking plan from the team with Holtmann around.
“That would be tragic if we can’t exploit the talent of Gerrit but I’m sure they have a plan now,” he said.
The Philippine Azkals will face Mongolia, 12.30 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, June 11 at the MFF Stadium in Ulaanbaatar. If it is not asking too much, please include the team in your prayers tonight. We need the full 3 points tomorrow because at the end of the day, it is the stat line that matters.
On a personal note, I would like to greet Boss Dan—yup, the beloved Azkals manager and all-weather friend to all—a Happy Birthday! May your passion and dedication to advancing football never cease.
Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!
For comments or questions, you can reach The Designated Kit Man at erel_ca[email protected] or follow his account at Twitter: @erelcabatbat