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Malaysia v Philippine Azkals: Thomas Dooley Debuts with a Goalless Stalemate

The start of the Dooley Era, one article described last night’s FIFA international friendly between the Philippines and Malaysia. A good thing the name of the game was football; because the way the Malaysians were shooting into the night air in Selayang, if the game was rugby the Dooley Era would have gotten off entirely on the wrong foot.

So thus, the two countries played to their third consecutive neighbourly draw. Suffice it to say, however, that there was nothing neighbourly whatsoever about the way either team approached the game; and that seven yellow cards were brandished meant that it was not your typical jaded friendly.

The porousness at the back for the Philippines would have been a cause for concern for the former United States captain and defensive midfielder; albeit, the opponents were Malaysia.

If Malaysia were a man, his surname would be Profligate. And he had best head off to the nearest convent because he just does not seem to know where the honey is.

The work ethic was also plain to see, while the organisation will get better with time. And since when did Younghusband track back so often to make those clumsy tackles that strikers are always culpable of?
The Malaysians, doubtless, would argue that Mohd Amiridzwan Taj Tajuddin's goal in the first half was perfectly legitimate. Indeed, the leap and header to put the ball past the Philippines’ debutant goalkeeper Patrick Deyto were exquisite.

Filipino eyes would have seen the elbow heading for Juani Guirado’s face. If that was not a foul, then perhaps it was a goal; and Malaysia could count itself unlucky.

On the other hand, that it was disallowed was perhaps more proof that somebody had asked some shaman to place a hex on Malaysia so that they make a real labour of trying to score goals against the Philippines every time the two countries meet.

Three other times in the first half when the Philippines were seemingly being overrun, Aidil Zafuan Radzak, Amri Yahyah and Safiq Rahim all came close. Each time, the woodwork like Batman came to the rescue.

When the hex was not working, Deyto was excellent. All would have forgiven the Green Archers United youngster had he shown signs of nerves on his first international cap; but the disallowed goal apart – which was placed well out of reach – his handling was impeccable.

The Malaysians did not have things all their own way, particularly in the second half when the Philippines started to show more enterprise. Flares thrown onto the tartan track by members of the Ultra Malaya fans in the first half, reportedly in protest against the Malaysian FA, might have disrupted Malaysia’s rhythm.

The Filipinos’ best chance came in the 61st minute when Jeffrey Christiaens galloped down the left flank then pulled the ball back to Phil Younghusband. The Philippines’ top marksman had his back to goal and had to shoot on the swivel. The shot was parried out by the Malaysian goalkeeper for a corner.

Late in the match, substitute Jason de Jong went on a mazy penetrating run into the Malaysian penalty box only to be upended by Mohd Asraruddin Putra Omar. Contact, Malaysians would argue, was minimal. Penalties, however, had been given for less.

A late Philippine flourish also saw young substitute Kenjiro Daniels scamper down the left to play the ball across goal. A pull back to either of two advancing and unmarked teammates would have been the better option.

Malaysia also had their moments in the second half, especially when the Philippines defence tired late on and fell into disarray. Invariably, most of their shots troubled the ball boys behind goal more than they did Pleyto.

It is still a tad too early, perhaps, to see marks of the fledgling Dooley Era. That said, Deyto and Daniels apart, it was refreshing to see new faces in Simone Rota, Ruben Doctora and Martin Steuble.

Rota looked solid defensively but does not have the crossing ability of a Carli de Murga, who will probably reclaim the position when back to fitness. Steuble looked comfortable on the ball; while Doctora showed glimpses of what his speed and nose for goal could bring the team with more experience.

This early, Dooley has shown that he knows how to use a regional friendly. There were no compromises in central defence where arguably the best partnership of Robert Gier and Guirado was fielded; but the willingness to blood in youngsters strengthens the squad considerably for the future.

The ease with which Malaysia carved the Philippines open particularly in the first half along with the gaping spaces in midfield would be food for thought for Dooley; but this early his team had an attractive balance of youth and experience.

Moreover, that the team came away from the match with a draw, albeit an unattractive one, showed that there was also resilience in a team so new and so young. Strolls in the park for Malaysia against the Philippines are now truly museum artefacts, even against a team missing its Europe-based expatriates.

The work ethic was also plain to see, while the organisation will get better with time. And since when did Younghusband track back so often to make those clumsy tackles that strikers are always culpable of?

Perhaps the big winner of last night’s stalemate was none other than the United Football League, whose players carried the colours against Malaysia. Admittedly with not just a bit of luck, players from Malaysia’s expensive professional league could not break down a one-month old squad made of players from the Philippines’ fledgling semi-professional league. Before a noisy home crowd at that.

Acknowledgment: Top photo from http://www.affsuzukicup.com

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