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Insights from the Philippine Azkals Friendly Win Away to Kyrgyzstan

Image credit:  The Azkals Facebook Page.

I only saw the second half of the Philippines Azkals’ friendly away to Kyrgyzstan last night in Bishkek, streamed live seemingly by a private individual rather than a television network. There was, therefore, neither commentary nor replays. This and the fact that I missed the entire first half makes it difficult to write a credible match analysis.

For whatever it is worth, there was real sense of purpose and hunger to the way the Filipinos started the second half. Kevin Ingreso had given the Philippines the lead just before the half from a well-crafted set play, a clip of which I saw on Facebook.

Eager to build on their lead, the Azkals pressed and harried the host team into mistakes then counterattacked incisively after winning the ball. From one such play, Iain Ramsey crossed for the lively Misagh Bahadoran to score a second for the Philippines on the volley.

Kyrgyzstan got back into the match with an over the top ball that looked suspiciously offside. In the absence of instant replay, we shall all give them the benefit of the doubt and say that the Philippines defence was caught square.

The home team had more of the ball in the final quarter of the match as it tried to force an equaliser. There were moments when the Philippines appeared to have lost a bit of composure, but Kyrgyzstan lacked guile and quality in the final third to unlock a packed defence.

The home team did win an 88th minute penalty, but Neil Etheridge saved routinely to preserve the win for the Azkals. The Walsall number one flapped badly trying to deal with a cross late in the match, but this apart his second half performance was quite brilliant. His catching at corners was particularly eye-catching.

Despite the fact that the match was a low-key friendly against an obscure Central Asian nation on a night of World Cup qualifying, this 1-2 victory and the way the Filipinos played offer us some very interesting insights.

First of all, its obscurity as a nation notwithstanding, Kyrgyzstan is in fact 29 place higher than the Philippines in the latest FIFA Men’s Ranking Table. This ranking could not have been achieved without some credible performances on the field.

Although Kyrgyzstan suffered a humiliating 0-6 loss away to Iran last June, in World Cup qualifying earlier, the country earned some noteworthy if not spectacular results, including a home win and a goalless away draw versus frequent contender Jordan. Against the Socceroos, Kyrgyzstan narrowly lost 1-2 at home.

Perhaps the most significant of Kyrgyzstan’s recent results was a 2-nil home win on the 30th of last month over Kazakhstan, the Asian nation that bizarrely prefers being a minnow in UEFA to being a power in the AFC. While this result is in itself noteworthy, what is even more so is that Kazakhstan just five days later drew 2-all at home to Poland in UEFA World Cup qualifying.

Football is seldom simply a matter of extrapolating results; and, indeed, there are many who caution against reading too much into the results of friendly matches when coaches often send out experimental sides.

That said, it is still a wonderful feeling to know that our national team last night defeated a team that had also defeated another team that days later drew with and scored two goals against a quarterfinalist in the 2016 European Championships.

For good measure, let us throw in the facts that England, birthplace of the beautiful game and home of the most profitable league in the world, could not get past the Round of 16 of the same tournament; and that Poland’s quarterfinal exit was after a penalty shootout loss to eventual champions Portugal.

The point of all these is that, perhaps, the time has come for our team to play against at least some of Europe’s or Latin America’s middling teams, always supposing, of course, that some will be willing to play against us.

It is well and good that we have moved past the tedium of playing Singapore or Malaysia every time there is an international break, but we can speculate all we like about how we will do against the world’s more renowned teams but will never really know unless we are actually on the same pitch as them.

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