Azkals 8, Cambodia 0. Postgame thoughts on a wild one

UNAUTHORIZED COMMERCIAL USE OF THIS IMAGE IS PUNISHABLE BY LAW. Image copyright Bob Guerrero.The unpredictability of sport was on display. As if the power outage wasn't enough, the Biblical deluge in the middle of March turned Rizal into a veritable Everglades that forced the match to be temporarily suspended. And then, just as the match is restarted, most of the bulbs in the light towers tap out. All this on an 8-0 game.

As Ian Darke, the ESPN's lead Soccer Commentator memorably intoned during Man City's otherworldly 3-2 win to clinch the English Premiership title last year with two stoppage-time scores, “who is writing this stuff?”

Phil won Man of the Match, but Stephan Schrock was a huge honorable mention. There is already much hue and cry on my Twitter about how Schrocky deserved the MOTM accolade. Had we given him the award then Phil Younghusband would have been the very first player in the history of Association Football to score four goals, assist on another, and NOT get MOTM.

But the Hoffenheim midfielder was just magical from the opening whistle to the last. First of all, he started at left wing, where he has never been used before for the Philippines to my recollection, and he shone.

Schrock's full arsenal of weapons was there for all to see. Ankle-breaking shifts in direction that befuddle defenders? Check. Top drawer crosses into the six yard box? Check. Cheeky backheels that even surprise his teammates? Check. Wicked in-swinging corners from BOTH FEET? (Thanks to Joel Dabao for noticing that.) Check. Mega-tsamba deflection goal that was deserving anyway because of all of the above? Check.

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Schrock gives us a glimpse of just how good the Bundesliga is. I believe any Asian national team, even powerhouses like Korea Republic, Japan, and Australia, would take him if they could. We are one lucky Footballing nation.

Oh and another Honorable Mention for Men ( and Women) of the Match? The event staff who gamely (and effectively) scooped away the water from the technical area during the stoppage using wastebaskets, garbage cans, pails, and drums.

Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

Phil's second goal was one for the ages. Among the quartet of strikes, this one rises above easily. Phil gets some time outside the box and lays some wicked spin on the ball. In the replay you can see the Molten Vantaggio's black and brown stripes spin like a whirling dervish as the ball makes a perfect two-meter cavendish around the defense and beyond the grasp of Samreth Seiha.

The goal instantly reminded me of David Beckham's beauty against the Azkals for the L.A. Galaxy, which he curled past Ed Sacapaño in December of 2011 into the same goal from a very similar angle.

This is the second time in his career that Phil has pulled off an International four-bagger; the first was in that 7-0 blowout of Timor Leste in Panaad in 2006. It has also put him atop the Challenge Cup qualifiers goal list, after just one game.

Cambodia tried different tactics and got a similar result. Coach Prak Sovannara made four changes from Thursday's 7-0 loss to Turkmenistan and also tweaked his strategy. Against the Green Men Sovannara bravely played what looked like a 4-3-3 and tried to play proper Football. In return, he got a hiding.

On Sunday the mentor made his charges play far more compact on defense in the hopes of controlling the scoreline. But the Philippines exploited their height advantage well with plenty of balls lobbed into the box. From a Cambodian standpoint, it wasn't pretty.

Prak Mony Udom was the best player in their two games. But Sovannara took him out at the half. Go figure.

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It's a solid debut for Javier Patiño. Palm Sunday is a commemoration of the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. On Palm Sunday this year, another possible messiah may have come into town as well.

Two goals on his first outing mark a great start to his Azkals career. He could have even made it three had he not clanged a header off the crossbar.

Qualification for Maldives is virtually a done deal. Astonishing fact: We can lose to Turkmenistan 6-0 on Tuesday AND STILL QUALIFY FOR THE FINAL STAGE NEXT YEAR.

(The five group winners plus the top two group runners-up book slots to the final stage, along with host Maldives.)

Yes, a 6-0 loss puts us at 6 points, level with group D runner-up Bangladesh, and with a goal difference of +5, on parity with the South Asians.

In fact, a 7-0 thrashing is still good enough. That puts us level on points and GD with India, the bridesmaid of group A. However with eleven goals for, (including the three phantom scores courtesy of Brunei) we easily out-tiebreak India, who disturbed the nets only six times in their group.

Book your flights to Maldives, folks.

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But no one is thinking about a loss to Turkmenistan. Sunday night was fun, but in reality, Cambodia are out of their league in Group E. A well-drilled Turkmenistan will be a far more formidable opponent on Tuesday. They're not only technically skilled, but bigger and more physical too.

The red card on Paul Mulders hurts, but after Sunday you think that as long as you have Schrock anywhere in the midfield and Phil and Javi up top then the goals will come.

True, we don't need a win to qualify, but bragging rights are at stake, and a Group E title gives plenty of motivation. We need a big crowd to spur the boys on but....

Once again we have overpriced the tickets. There were massive swathes of empty bleachers to be seen, and the corners of the grandstand did not fill up. How many times must this happen before we learn?

The green and blue end bleacher seats went for P106 a pop. The central white bleachers had a P533 price of admission. How bad was it? The Kaholeros, an Azkals cheering group composed of rabid fans, found the center bleachers too expensive and were forced to position themselves in the blue bleachers.

The PFF should realize that a full house is needed every time, and stop charging these prices, especially in the very price-sensitive bleachers section.

Chances of a bigger crowd are even dimmer on Tuesday since it's a weeknight and the center grandstand seats will be P2668 instead of P2134.

In my opinion, Green and Blue Bleachers should go for fifty pesos, and the white bleachers no more than P200. Grandstand seats should start at P500. Then we can once again enjoy the packed houses that we saw in 2011.

Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.


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