Singapore 0, Philippines 2 Postgame Thoughts

Stephan Schrock. Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

Chieffy's goal was one of the most hilarious ever. If you have been to Barotac Nuevo and played Football in the shadow of its church tower, you will know what a palagtiki is. That is the Ilonggo word for the of clumps of grass that infest the Barotac Nuevo field. There are thousands of them. The grass just has a habit of forming in this manner, with bare dirt around it. It makes for Mini-Golf like conditions for Football, with ground passes pinging off in all directions. This phenomenon of the palagtiki is just one of the many challenges facing Barotac Nuevo footballers.

It's only fitting that the only Barotac Nuevo player on the pitch for the Azkals scored the first goal thanks to a palagtiki-esque bounce off a mound caused by a freshly-made divot. The 8th minute strike, Caligdong's 14th International goal, is destined for infamy, especially if you're a Singapore fan.

The field at the Jurong West Stadium was definitely an improvement over the sorry surface in Phnom Penh. But it was mushy in bits, and just before the goal is scored a Singapore defender seems to turn up some muck in the penalty area. Chieffy's scuffed shot strikes it at just the right angle and it ramps up and off the tips of Hyrulnizam Juma'at's fingernails for a score.

A goal this strange hasn't been seen since Sunderland's Darren Bent scored a bizarre goal in a 1-0 win over Liverpool in 2009. In that game his shot deflected off a beach ball thrown into the field by a Liverpool fan. The referee controversially allowed the goal to stand.

We can laugh this now, but the incident illustrates how important a good pitch is. The artificial grass pitch in the McKinley Hill Football Stadium can't be made quick enough.

But I believe justice was served. Sort of. In the 65th minute Chieffy picked up a looping pass from Carlie De Murga and hoofed it off a half volley on target. It was a lovely attempt technically. But Juma'at was well positioned to stop it about a foot off the line.

In an ideal world, Chieffy's goal shouldn't have counted but that second attempt deserved to go in. So there.

And besides, in last October's match between the two teams, a 2-0 home win for the Lions, Singapore scored off a deflection. What goes around comes around.

This is an historic win. It's not our first win against Singapore, mind you. I was mistaken in saying that on TV and I apologize. Truth its, it's our first win over Singapore in 40 years. FIFA says through its website that we beat the Lions 2-0 in Jakarta in 1972.

It's also our first road win on the home pitch of an opponent since the Miracle In Hanoi in 2010. Since then we played at Indonesia twice in the Suzuki Cup semis (two 1-0 losses), at Mongolia (2-1 loss), at Myanmar (1-1 draw), at Sri Lanka (1-1 draw), at Kuwait (3-0 loss), at Chinese Taipei, (0-0 draw), at Malaysia, (0-0 draw), at Cambodia (0-0 draw), then last night. (In case you're wondering, no the exhibition win over Al-Ahli Sports Club and Friends in Doha does not count. I'm only considering full FIFA Internationals here.)

Stephan Schrock is The Man. The Hoffenheim midfielder is easily my Man of the Match. He assisted Chieffy on the first goal and delivered an inch-perfect ball to Phil Younghusband on the second. He also unspooled two or three other threatening through-balls. Schrock showed his wizardry in controlling the ball and his work rate was also laudable. Being the fiery character that he is, he also picked up a late yellow card. Our Suzuki Cup campaign just might rest on his availability come November.

The decision to rest Rob Gier in the Cambodia game paid off. Coach Weiss yanked Gier in the second half of the Cambodian game. It was a great move since the Cambodians weren't pushing forward anyway. The 31-year old Gier looked fit and sharp against Singapore, and his back four kept a clean sheet.

Is the 4-5-1 the way to go for the Philippines? On several occasions Phil Younghusband, playing as the lone target striker, collected possession deep in Singapore territory. Then he waited. And waited. And waited. Support was just not quick enough. Weiss went with five midfielders, Chieffy and James Younghusband on the wings, with Jerry Lucena, Schrock, and Paul Mulders in the center. You can't blame him in a sense, because doesn't have those three European-based players at his disposal often. But even the best true center forwards have difficulty in a 4-5-1 and Phil perhaps needs someone else to play with up top. An idea: how about Patrick Reichelt at right wing, where he is comfortable, then have James as a target man with Phil as the withdrawn, or second striker? James is a terrific header of the ball. Or Denis Wolf could play that target man role. Just a thought. Maybe in the upcoming Peace Cup Weiss can try these and other combinations.

This Singapore team will have a hard time in the Suzuki Cup. I was left unimpressed by the Lions. Their defense was caught sleeping several times, with Caligdong unmolested in his goal and Phil encountering token resistance on his. Their midfield kept the ball for long stretches in the first half but my partner Darren Hartman is right; the Spanish do the tiki-taka better because they hit you with a flash of speed just as they've lulled you to sleep. (The first Spanish goal in the Euro final versus Italy comes to mind.) With Singapore there is no abrupt change of gear. They might have speedy players, but we never saw anyone like Indonesia's hellacious Oktovianus Maniani or Malaysia's Subramaniam Kunanlan.

The Singaporean team was lacking in firepower. Striker Aleksandar Duric was unavailable thanks to an injury sustained in training. The 42-year old, who scored in the last two times we played Singapore, was sorely missed. Shi Jiayi had a chance in the fourth minute but he bludgeoned it, sending the ball straight to Etheridge. Agu Casmir was effective in the second half. Why doesn't he start?

To be honest, this is the kind of home result that can get a manager fired by a trigger-happy National Federation. Raddy Avramovic has helmed Singapore since 2003, and although he led the Lions to Tiger Cup glory in 2004, perhaps his days are numbered, unless he turns things around with a great Suzuki Cup. Remember, the Lions beat Hong Kong last month, but before that endured an eight-game winless streak.

The best Singaporean performance came from the stands. The home side's cheering squad was magnificent. They were decked out in red and white, looked very well-organized and rehearsed, and cheered for every minute of the game even when the team fell behind. Close your eyes and they sound exactly like the "ultras" of an English Premiership club. I hope that the Kaholeros, the official Azkals cheering group, can be just as strong in the upcoming home games. The home team was outnumbered by the expatriate Filipinos, but not out-voiced.

You can follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.

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