Any which way you look at it, this was not a thing of beauty. The Azkals brought out their C-game against Laos, as we slump to our seventh loss to them in nine matches. Everybody was just off. Stephan Schrock's service was subpar, with so many shots going past their mark. First half deliveries from others to Denis Wolf and Paul Mulders were a bit behind.
Patrick Reichelt squandered a gilt-edged look late in the second half, curling a shot over the bar. Earlier on he received a good ball from Ian Araneta and elected to shoot from an acute angle instead of passing or holding for a better shot. Christiaens was solid in defense but indecisive going forward, perhaps hanging on to the ball a wee bit too long. Wolf couldn't make it happen, and neither could Mulders. Of the two penalties, perhaps the second was a bit iffy.
Did we miss the Younghusbands? The performance did little to disavow the notion that we can succeed without them.
In the second half two nasty incidents broke out, and the second, which Laotian TV refused to show, ended up with Misagh Bahadoran getting tossed. In the second incident I saw Jason Sabio and Stephan Schrock ganging up on a Laotian who was on the deck. But I will reserve my judgment until I hear what the players have to say. There could have been a lot of nonsense going on that we didn't see.
The Azkals have been elevated to the status of peace ambassadors in preparation for the Peace Cup coming up later this month. They may have been provoked by Laos in the clashes, but it looks bad for them to be involved with this sort of nastiness. In hindsight, is it reasonable to give testosterone-laden athletes in a physical sport that kind of a title?
[RELATED: Singapore 0, Azkals 2]
[RELATED: Cambodia 0, Azkals 0]
We don't like excuses, but I'll give one anyway: this team had to be tired. The schedule really was brutal. September 5 in Cambodia, then a flight to Singapore for the Sept 7 game, then back to Indochina for a game three days later. Three road games in 6 days with travel in between. No wonder they looked flat. Imagine a business trip, not involving anything strenuous, just meetings, with a sched like that. Doesn't that wear you out just thinking about it? The critics out there should consider this before skewering the team. And perhaps team management can have less grueling tours in the future.
Oh and one more thing: in spite of the weariness, they fought for and won a deserved late goal.
The referee wasn't great, but neither did he rob us of a result. The referee should have red carded the Laotian player who smacked Bahadoran in the first dust-up. And was he a wee bit harsh on the second penalty? Neil may have brushed Visay Phaphouvanin on the way down but the Laotian made the most of it.
The most egregious error was the three added three minutes of stoppage time. In my opinion, the first incident alone merited about three minutes. The second took about five to clear up.
However I spoke to FIFA Match Coordinator Gue David afterwards and he said that it is up to the discretion of the referee to give the proper stoppage time. He can give less, he can give more. David says that the referee can even stop the game in the 70th minute if he thinks the game will lead to a dangerous situation, like a full-blown riot. So while the inadequate injury time seemed unfair (especially after Gier's goal), it was within the Laws of Football.
And of course, the referee did not make all those errant passes, our players did.
David also said that in a FIFA friendly, the home team can use its own referees, as we did when we entertained Guam a few months back. Which brings me to my next point....
Do we take these friendlies too seriously? I think so. Friendlies are just that: FRIENDLIES. They are meant to be venues where teams can see where they are, test young players, experiment with new tactics, and just have a fun run-out on the field. These are not supposed to be blood-and-guts, Spartan Death battles.
No wonder Laos manager Kokichi Kimura made four changes at the half then kept on subbing until the end. He was treating the game the way it should be treated; as a friendly, a Football laboratory for different ideas.
When we lose friendlies far too many Azkals fans treat it like the end of the world. It isn't. The Azkals Nation needs to take a collective Chill Pill in moments like these. So we lost to a lower-ranked team in a friendly. Big, fat, hairy deal. It happens all the time. That's Football. We move on.
Rob Gier the scoring machine! I am so happy for Gier. The defender finally gets on the scoresheet for the Philippines. It's a fitting reward for a great tour. I just wish it happened during better circumstances. The goal was the fruit of another Jason Sabio long throw, the third goal now to come off that weapon. Sabio may have gotten off his feet on the toss, but it doesn't matter. At that point, the ref owed us one.
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.