Cambodia is taking the long view. True, the Indochinese were comprehensively taken to the woodshed in every phase of play. Yes their defending was criminal for most of the 90 minutes. True, they poorly finished the few chances they had.
But when it comes to the big picture, I like, nay LOVE what they are doing.
On Thursday Prak Sovannara, Cambodia's coach, told the gathered media in the press con that they were focused on the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar, and that 80% of his team is 23 years old or younger. That tells me that the Khmers feel they have no chance of progressing in this event, so they will use it to blood their youngsters and give them a taste of International Football. It's an interesting strategy, and for them the right one. For certain they like their chances of success in Myanmar better than in the Challenge Cup. (After all they couldn't even beat Brunei in last year's Suzuki Cup qualifiers.)
How steadfast is their commitment to the future? Midfielder Hoy Phallin started, and he is only seventeen. The kid is a good physical specimen and has decent control on the ball.
They also followed this bold philosophy on the tactical side. If they were really going for a result they could have gone with a congested 4-5-1 formation. Instead they seemed to use an aggressive 4-3-3. What Cambodia is basically saying is “we are going to try and play our game and not play cynically. We would rather learn and go down in flames than park the bus, lose 1-0 and learn nothing.”
Its a laudable strategy that is brave and forward-thinking.
Sovannara is on his second tour of duty as Cambodia's mentor and for sure he is an experienced coach who is taking the pragmatic view. They know that this week is a matter of one step back, two steps forward. Although on Friday, they took seven steps back.
Should the Azkals replicate this thinking? Not necessarily. We have a legit shot at winning the Challenge Cup so we can play our full-strength teams now.
But after this weekend, the priority should be the SEA Games. And that for me means giving more playing time in International friendlies to U23 players, even when better older players are available. It can only help us in the long run.
We need to score plenty against Cambodia. Turkmenistan has hung up a target of 7-0 against Cambodia. Lets try and go for eight, if possible. If we somehow can lay an octopus on Cambodia, then we have the luxury of only drawing Turkmenistan on Tuesday to win the group. Judging from how Cambodia played on Thursday, it just might be doable. Cambodia gave the Green Men plenty of space from which to launch attacks. Their defense was naïve and sluggish.
Keeper Sou Yaty did make some nice saves but he let the first goal in through his legs, allowed another in on the near post from an angle (a cardinal sin for a keeper) and in guessing wrong on another goal, seemed to dive out of the ball's way. He kept a clean sheet against the Azkals last year in Phnom Penh, but it's not gonna happen on Sunday.
Of course Cambodia just might wake up and spring a surprise. That's possible too. But I like our chances. The Cambodians looked ponderous, and the work rate and defensive awareness was poor. In fact, Turkmenistan reeled off an astonishing 27 shots on goal, of which thirteen were on target. Of the outfield players, only midfielder Prak Mony Udom showed quality.
In the modern era, the biggest Philippine win was in 2006 when we hammered Timor Leste in Bacolod 7-0. With Michael Weiss' arsenal bristling with weapons on Sunday, we hope to see a similar scoreline.
If we start raining goals and Cambodia prefers to sit back then I'd like to see either of the centerbacks, Rob Gier or Juani Guirado, get a rest so that they're as fresh as possible for Tuesday's match.
Turkmenistan are beatable. It is hard to evaluate the Green Men because they faced such facile resistance on Thursday. But I can see a weakness in striker Garymanberdi Chonkayev. Their talisman did not start and when he came on, he looked far too eager to score for his own good. In one play he even declined to pass to an open team mate.
I say the Azkals defense needs to rough him up physically and get into his head. Some Anton Del Rosario-like smack talk might even be helpful.
This could be the game plan: press often and early and let the tropical heat get to the visitors. It might be hard since Turkmenistan gets two extra days of rest. But it could be worth a try.
Arslanmyrat Amanov, who, like Chonkayev, scored against the Azkals in Nepal, is a bigger headache. Me and James Gardner handed him the Man of the Match plum. Amanov opened the scoring with a vicious strike through the keeper's legs. He can threaten from the wing, supply good service from anywhere near the box, and has a ferocious right foot. A rebound off one of his long-range shots that Yaty batted back set up Vladimir Bayramov's first goal.
The Azkals should man-mark him into submission. If the Philippines can reduce his influence on Tuesday, we have a great chance at winning.
I wonder if Turkmenistan will use the same 3-4-3 formation against us. I suspect they won't, but if they do, we can try one of those much-maligned long balls to the wings, where Cambodia had some limited success. I didn't think the Turkmen were particularly pacey. If Jeffrey Christiaens, Patrick Reichelt, or even Chieffy Caligdong gets a step on them, they could be burned.
Sunday will raise the curtain for our campaign. We need a confidence-boosting rout against Cambodia, then a tough win against Turkmenistan. Then the dream of the Challenge Cup and even the 2015 Asian Cup can live on.
Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.