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Vietnam Do Azkals a Favour by Winning 3-1 in the Suzuki Cup

Image captured from video on the
AFF Suzuki Cup YouTube channel.
First of all, it will serve nobody any real good to read too much into last night’s rather meek 1-3 surrender to Vietnam in the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup. We went to Hanoi to qualify for the semi-finals; and we did that with a game to spare. At this point in the tournament, that is all that matters.

Malaysia actually suffered a 1-5 shellacking at the hands of hosts Indonesia in the group stages of the 2010 Suzuki Cup before going on to win the tournament with a flourish. In 2012, Singapore began the tournament indifferently, losing 0-1 to Indonesia and needing a Laos meltdown to even qualify for the semi-finals.

If at all the Philippines were allowed to lose a game in the Suzuki Cup, it was this one. All the players as well as team management deserve nothing but praise for having earned this luxury. The defeat was, if we are all being honest, rather humbling. That said, it was Vietnam and not us who had all the motivation to win the match.

A lot is being said about the likelihood that we would be getting Thailand for the semi-finals. Lest anyone forgets, Singapore are the defending champions. While the Thais, like the Philippines, have qualified early for the semi-finals, they have not exactly looked invulnerable in their own group.

Those who have been following the tournament will know that Malaysia scored twice against the Thais in their group game, something that the former could not do against us in four consecutive friendly internationals. Moreover, the Malaysians actually led Thailand twice.
Once in the semi-finals, it will not really matter who we play as obviously all qualifiers will be in-form teams. Instead, what will matter is how WE play.

The Philippines qualified for the semi-finals by scoring 8 goals in two matches and conceding only the unlikely goal against Laos. Both matches were played in an empty stadium.

Thus, the lack of movement and the disjointed performance against Vietnam were probably as much due to the anxiety from playing inside a packed stadium for the first time in the tournament as it was from the drop in adrenalin after having already qualified.

Make no mistake about it, this was as disjointed a performance as the friendly against Thailand in Bangkok earlier in the month. If you wish, this was as poor as the 4-nil rout of Indonesia was majestic.

Why it was majestic was because of the incredible work rate that the players put into the match. It would have been a big ask of the players to replicate the same levels of physical endurance so soon after a peak performance; and on the third match in a mere seven days.

Perhaps, things could have gone differently had Patrick Deyto dealt better with Ngo Hoang Thinh’s 9th minute wonder strike. The ball was travelling at pace but Deyto looked to have gotten his angles right. However, he appeared to have been beaten by the skid and bounce on the uneven surface.

The ease with which Vu Minh Tuan rounded Daisuke Sato to score Vietnam’s second in the 51st minute probably summed up the entire Philippines performance on the night. Sato has arguably been the team’s most steady and consistent performer for the entire year; and the ease with which he was turned was totally uncharacteristic.

Vietnam’s 3rd goal, scored by Pham Thanh Luong in the 58th minute, must have been from all of 35 yards. On the one hand, that it was the second goal scored from distance was symptomatic of the languor with which the Philippines midfield played. On the other hand, how often will Vietnam score the same goals from such distances?

The Philippines’ defending was inexcusable on both occasions; but both shots could just as easily have ended somewhere up in Row Z. Yes, Vietnam were lucky both times!

Because Paul Mulders pulled one back in the 60th minute off a cross by Jerry Lucena, then the score without Vietnam having such a hot night shooting from distance could have easily been 1-all. Then there was this late chance when we all would have put our money on Martin Steuble scoring but he somehow mystifyingly missed from 3 yards.

And we were having an indifferent night, mind! That is euphemism for playing badly.

I can fully understand Thomas Dooley’s decision to play with a full-strength line-up, as indeed winning teams like to, well, keep on winning. Personally, I would have preferred a few from the bench to have been more involved.

One just never knows when injuries to key players will happen; and the last thing we need is for someone cold, anxious and over-eager to be sent into the cauldron of the semi-finals and, God willing, the finals.

There are those who say that there are more things to be learned from losing than there are from winning. In a sense, therefore, Vietnam actually did us a favour by defeating us last night in Hanoi.

First of all, Vietnam pressed and harried us in a way that Laos and Indonesia, in their generosity, could not do. Moreover, Vietnam resorted to the sort of cynical defending that we can expect more of in the semi-finals and the sort that Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore have already shown that they are all capable of in the other group.

Hopefully, despite the humbling loss, the game last night would have hardened the lads for the semi-finals. Better still, it would have tempered expectations especially after the swashbuckling performance against Indonesia.

Now we all know – coaching staff, players, fans – that the road to the finals will not be an afternoon stroll in the park.

There was a remarkable similarity to the way we capitulated last night to Vietnam and the forgettable defeat to the Thais earlier in the month. In both matches, our performances were marked by positional indiscipline, wasteful passing in the final third and a vulnerability to the counterattack. The good news is that we if really put our mind to it, as we did against Indonesia, we can play the exact antithesis of this worrisome brand of football.

It is almost a certainty that we will be squaring up to the Thais in the semi-finals of this year’s Suzuki Cup, especially since their last group match will be against qualifiers Myanmar.

Those who have been following the tournament will know that Malaysia scored twice against the Thais in their group game, something that the former could not do against us in four consecutive friendly internationals. Moreover, the Malaysians actually led Thailand twice.

I say Thailand are beatable; albeit whether we actually defeat them or not will ultimately be up to Dooley and the lads. Were it up to me, I would leave it to them to worry about us instead of the other way around.

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