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Azkals in Narrow Win Over Guam in Peace Cup

The most reassuring thing about the Philippines not having a Phil Younghusband in its inaugural match in the 2012 Peace Cup tonight was that Guam did not have one either. Indeed, when Patrick Reichelt scored with an opportunist header in the 80th minute to spare the Philippines’ blushes, the celebrations that came after it could not have underscored the catharsis more after what had been a dominant if unconvincing performance by the host team.

Never mind, too, that the opponents were Guam; and any chance that the upstarts might have had to score could only have been if Eduard Sacapaño in the Philippine goal somehow managed to fumble the hit-and-hope shots that the islanders were limited to taking.

Not much chance of that happening, as Sacapaño – whose usefulness in many previous matches had been limited to warming Neil Etheridge up – was safe as an army fort on the few occasions that he was actually called upon to participate.

Today’s performance by the Philippines might not have been eye-catching; but on the other hand, this allows us room to improve in the next two matches. Hopefully, we can build on tonight’s performance for the Thursday match against Macau and be at our best when we wind up the tournament on Saturday against Chinese-Taipei.
The Philippines looked composed on the ball and moved it around the field confidently; only in the wrong end of the field. Upfront, where the Guamanian defence had encamped and where more precision in the inter-passing was required, the Philippines were frequently profligate.

Not to say that that Guam’s defence was solid as a rock. Indeed, in the first half alone, the Philippines got behind it time and again; but only for those who got into goalscoring positions to either lose nerve or just not have the quality to finish.

In the 10th minute, a precise pass from Jason de Jong – playing center-back instead of his preferred midfield position – found Ian Araneta just yards from goal and with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Araneta hesitated instead of pulling the trigger, thus allowing a defender to recover and force a corner. This would not be the only time during the night when the veteran striker would have been better rewarded had he been quicker to shoot.

Soon afterwards, Marwin Angeles was in an even better position just to the left of the goal. The angle, perhaps, did not favour him. Still, a wily striker would have neatly chipped the advancing goalkeeper instead of trying to force the shot. The ball was consequently smothered.

In the 27th minute, a neat interchange of passes from midfield culminated in Dennis Wolf getting yet another clear sight of goal. The shot was fractionally delayed and consequently blocked.

Probably the best chance of the game fell at the feet of stand-in captain Chieffy Caligdong, who found himself free to the left of goal just yards out just before the halftime whistle. Any other day and the ball would have been hitting the roof of the net. Today, Caligdong made the ball-boy earn his night’s pay.

The pattern continued in the second half; and if anything whatever Guam saw of the ball were no more than morsels. Debutant Demetrius Omphroy started to get comfortable with the game and was foraging almost at will down the right flank.

One delightful cross found Araneta unmarked in the middle. The Air Force striker, it seemed, had made a vow not to score and was doing his darnedest to keep the vow. That he missed the ball – and therefore the chance to open scoring – was comical if not criminal.

The Philippines continued to lay siege on Guam’s goal, with Wolf, Carli de Murga and even the teenager OJ Porteria missing chances. Guam, it seemed, lived a charmed life; but then came Reichelt’s goal late in the game.

A work of art it was not. A corner was headed back in and Guam’s goalkeeper should have routinely collected. Instead, he hesitated; and, thus, allowed Reichelt to nick the ball in with his head into an empty goal.

Eight minutes later, Porteria made space for himself to the right inside the box. His shot could only be parried by the goalkeeper; and Marvin Angeles – twin of Marwin and another senior team debutant – could have done better with the rebound to put the game to bed.

Not that Guam could have made it more embarrassing for their hosts by actually contriving to score and force a draw. The young team has certainly learned to defend; but it will probably take a few more years for it to pose any real threat at the opposite end. Make no mistake about it, however; this young team can and probably will get better.

While the result might ultimately not have been convincing, the important thing is that the Philippines have won its first match and now sits top of the table after Macau and Chinese Taipei drew the tournament’s opening match 2-2. Potential banana skins that opening games can sometimes be, here is one instance when the result is actually more important than the method.

Perhaps, playing Ian Araneta beside Dennis Wolf was not too bright an idea. Both are too similar in styles. Today, they were similar in many other ways such as heavy touches in the tight areas; the tendency to hesitate when in sight of goal; and the inability to work for each other.

Others who got into goalscoring positions were probably also quite guilty of being too eager to fill up the void created by Younghusband’s absence. Misagh Bahadoran, for instance, shot from virtually no angle in the 40th minute; something that even schoolboys know is better played back or across goal for somebody to nick in. Indeed, Wolf was waiting to tap the ball in at the far post.

While it is always important for a team to score, the name that goes into the score sheet is not as vital.

Was it not Michael Weiss who, not too long ago, was being accused of being too timid with his substitutions? He cannot be the same person because today, he was substituting players for recreation. Excellent, perhaps, for conserving players for a short tournament; but ultimately disruptive of the flow of his own team’s game.

Today’s performance by the Philippines might not have been eye-catching; but on the other hand, this allows us room to improve in the next two matches. Hopefully, we can build on tonight’s performance for the Thursday match against Macau and be at our best when we wind up the tournament on Saturday against Chinese-Taipei.

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