Malaysia didn't win because their strikers couldn't hit the side of a barn. Safee Sali, Norshahrul Idlan, and Safiq Rahim all either sprayed shots against the Azkals or shot straight at Roland Muller. The most wretched piece of finishing was Rahim's 50th minute miss. With the goal at his mercy, the captain tried to go for the top corner and missed completely. The home side had the better of the second half but couldn't make their chances pay.
The Azkals didn't look cohesive in the midfield. With Stefan Schrock, Manny Ott and Paul Mulders in the mix, we might have expected some intricate midfield passing. It didn't happen. Far too often the Philippines resorted to speculative long balls, a strategy that failed to unlock the Malaysian defense. Schrock had lots of time on the ball but at times lacked the support to create. Having world-class players like Schrock on your team is great, but when the chess pieces have little time to cohere and gel, not a whole lot can be expected. Meanwhile, the Malayan Tigers looked like a team that have played with each other for years. Twice they unveiled cheeky dummies and we also saw a neat little backheel to set up another chance.
We missed the Younghusbands. The Philippines just lacked that bit of magic. Mulders almost scored early off a volley, Denis Wolf had two chances in the first half that went begging, Ott shot once at the keeper, and an awkward volley was understandably not converted by Schrock. Had the brothers been there, it might have been a different story. They are riding high, with recent solid performances for club and country. On Tuesday they will be ready for Indonesia. Expect them to shine.
This is not a result that will help grow the Azkals audience. Just like in any sport, not every game can be a classic. This was far from one, with both teams lacking quality in the attacking third. But we are still in the process of building a following for this team and the sport. Like it or not, we need goals, and lots of them. There are scoreless draws that the cognoscenti can appreciate for their nuances and subtleties. However those are lost on the casual fans. Lets hope the next two friendlies are high-scoring wins for the Azkals.
We need to give more young players international experience. Neil Etheridge, who by the way had a fine commentary debut, bemoaned the lack of substitutions on air. I can't disagree with him. Yes, we need to win. Yes, the team is under pressure. But these are just friendlies and we have to think of the future. "There's only so much you can learn on the training pitch" said Darren Hartmann. The coach used four subs to bring on Misagh Bahadoran, Marwin Angeles, Ian Araneta and Jeffrey Christaens. However the last sub was in stoppage time after Juani Guirado came off with what looked like a knee injury. In contrast, Krishnasamy Rajagopal, the Malaysia boss, used five subs, most of them much earlier than ours. We need to blood our youngsters in these friendlies so they can grow and learn. I would have loved to have seen OJ Clarino get into the match. That is the kind of surprising, out-of-the-box, substitution we need. Hopefully the Guam game can feature more young blood for the Philippines.
Systems equal success. Malaysia may have drawn two games in a row with the Philippines, but make no mistake. They are still light years ahead in football development. We only started training our U22 team recently. Meanwhile Malaysia has not one, but two permanent national youth teams, Harimau Muda A for players aged 19 to 22, and Harimau Muda B for those younger than 19. Harimau Muda A plays in the Singapore League while the B squad is in the Malaysian Premier League, the country's second tier of competition. (Harimau Muda means "Young Tiger.") Apart from International friendlies, the national squad has also played four friendlies against club squads already this year, and next month takes on Arsenal and Manchester City. We would do well to emulate their system that has brought so much glory to them recently.
We've come a long way, baby. It did seem like an unsatisfying result. But let's put this in perspective: We have only beaten Malaysia once (in the 1991 SEA Games) and in our first four road matches versus Malaysia, we had always lost until Friday. Three years ago there would have been dancing in the streets of Barotac Nuevo with a result like this. That a draw will no longer suffice shows how far we have come as a Footballing nation.
We're itching for a bad-ass Azkal jersey. I've been told that the plain white shirt the team wore is a mere stand-in. Puma, the Azkals new supplier, is allegedly readying something snazzier. I sure hope that's true. I also expect Puma to do a better job of meeting the demand for the kit.