Azkals 0, Bahrain 0: A Result to Be Proud Of

Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

My postgame thoughts.

Make no mistake about it: this was a magnificent result. Don't mind the goose eggs on the scoreboard. This result far exceeds any of the wins against the patsies of the Peace Cup, and is perhaps even better than the road win against Singapore. To get a result on the home turf of a Middle Eastern nation 30 to 40 slots above us in the world rankings is superb. The Philippines were simply the better side in the first half, with more chances and more intent, while Bahrain looked sluggish. It almost looked like the recent US presidential debate, with Bahrain playing the role of the curiously passive Obama and the Philippines the expansive and aggressive Romney. Things reversed in the second half, with Bahrain making changes in the lineup and ramping up the intensity. But it didn't work and the score remained until the final whistle.

Football isn't just about the goals. It's also about the pinpoint passes, the perfectly-timed tackles, the neat touches, the terrific saves, and the tactical chess game that unfolds. I hope the casual Azkals fans can begin to appreciate these little nuances and go beyond merely looking for goals.

The Man of The Match is split four ways to the back line. Ray Jonsson, Juani Guirado, Rob Gier, and Dennis Cagara deserve the biggest chunk of credit for this win, er, draw. Gier played the role of field marshal perfectly, barking out instructions and organizing the troops. Roland Muller was really only tested twice, once with a header in the first half that he partially blocked, then again the second half with a long-range strike he palmed clear. The defense gave Bahrain precious few opportunities to strike and tracked back during breakaways brilliantly even deep into the second half.

This is the kind of mistake-free back four play that we will desperately need going into the Suzuki Cup.

Denis Wolf needs to be more clinical. The big forward had a goal handed to him on a silver platter in the 31st minute in a 1v1 with the Bahrain keeper but he couldn't finish it off. After his Peace Cup Golden Boot performance, Wolf should have been full of confidence heading into this match. But instead it's another night of "what might have been." Wolf may have taken a few too many touches there. Had he pulled the trigger a bit earlier, he would have had a bigger target since the goalie was farther off. In a night where goal scoring chances were at a premium, this once should have been put away. Did we miss Phil Younghusband? I think yes.

The Azkals will need to convert what few chances it will get in the Suzuki Cup group stage if it hopes the advance to the semis.

Oh, and I wasn't able to see who made that pass. It was absolutely perfect, as was Wolf's run.

Misagh Bahadoran played perhaps his most influential game as an Azkal. The man known as "Hollywood" has shone in Futsal competitions and in league play for Global, but has yet to score an International goal in Football for the Philippines. He also gets a lot of stick for overdribbling. But last night in Manama he delivered a neat pass to Wolf early in the second half but Wolf stumbled. Then he made a lovely run down the right flank and then offloaded to OJ Porteria whose fine attempt was well-saved. Bahadoran's fans should be pleased with his night's work.

OJ Porteria is the future. The kid almost won the game for us. Jason Sabio and Darren Hartmann, my commentary partners and OJ's teammates on Kaya can't stop talking about his confidence, speed, and technical ability. If he stays humble, continues developing, and remains injury free, he is a striker who could lead us to regional glory one day. He's just shy of 18, so we'll get at least a decade out of him, probably even more. The possibilities are mouth-watering.

Don't mean to spoil the party, but I still think this game shouldn't have been played. In a previous blog post I opined that our Azkals Peace Ambassadors should not have accepted an invitation against a country that brutally suppressed Arab Spring pro-democracy demonstrations last year. I was pilloried in the comments section of that post and will likely get it again on this one. But I stand by what I wrote.

True, I have never been to Bahrain. I may not know every twist and turn of its political situation between its ruling Sunni monarchy and Shia majority. And yes, in many ways Bahrain is a prosperous, progressive country with a very high standard of living. But there is little doubt that its government has failed to meet international standards of human rights in this matter. If I am mistaken, then so are many respected news outlets.

Missing on the pitch for Bahrain were A'ala Hubail and his brother Mohamed Hubail. These two national team players were brave enough to join the demonstrations last year, with A'ala reportedly helping out since he is a trained paramedic. Both were detained and yanked off the national team, and Mohamed, who has scored five times for his country, was jailed and sentenced to two years in prison. (A'ala has scored 21.)

Some have criticized my blog for mixing sports and politics. Well I think they have to attack the Bahraini government even harder for doing the same.

I would respect the Azkals Peace Ambassadors more if they make a statement urging for peaceful solutions to Bahrains' political problems. But I doubt they would do such a thing. It would embarrass the hosts too much.

The Azkals have helped with peace efforts in Mindanao, but they could have sent an even better message by passing on this game.

Human rights is different from politics, and human rights touches on all aspects of society. It's definitely more important than sport. If a nation does not respect human rights, it deserves to be isolated. And that includes saying no its sports invitations.

We should have played some other team last night, or no team at all.

On a lighter note, my pink tie has been dethroned as the Official Azkals Lucky Tie. Jason Sabio's blue and red bowtie can now take that mantle.

You can follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.

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