Singapore 1, Azkals 0 post-mortem: Keep On Believing

Aleksandar Duric. Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

The Singaporeans came out to play physical. Early on, Phil Younghusband was roughed up. Chieffy Caligdong was also subject to some hits, and Cagara was bloodied. Carli De Murga and a few others also received some love taps. Don't think for a moment that it was all accidental.

Football is a physical sport, and for sure it was part of the game plan of Raddy Abramovic to intimidate. By and large the challenges weren't inordinately dirty or malicious, but were meant to send a message: "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Man up and take a licking. If you want, come after us and put some of us on our wallets too. It's part of the game and afterwards we shake hands and it's all good."

The strategy worked, as the Philippines were outplayed, especially in the early part of the game leading up to Khairul Amri's splendid goal.


>> Weiss: Singapore did not dominate

>> Singapore coach: We deserved it

If I could, I would give the Man Of The Match award to the Jalan Besar pitch. The words "Jalan Besar" mean "big road" in Malay. Fitting, since the artificial grass must have felt like asphalt to the Azkals.

I ran into Roxy Dorlas in UAAP Football today. He mentioned how hard it is to play in Jalan Besar. (His club team, Loyola Meralco Sparks, played there a few times during the Singapore Cup this year.) He said that the intense humidity and hard artificial surface made it tough to cope, and that he and a few of his team mates succumbed to cramps in their games there.

I watched Loyola lose 3-0 to Tampines Rovers in that park. After the game I went down to the field to commiserate with the players. The field looks a lot like the surface in Turf BGC, with rubber infill and short plastic blades. But it was much, much harder. I was told, I think by Loyola assistant Gil Talavera, that as BGC ages, it too will become this hard. That could be true, or maybe BGC's turf uses newer technology which is why it's softer.

Jalan Besar is not the permanent national stadium Singapore. The old National Stadium in Kallang was demolished a while back and a new one is being constructed. I am almost certain it will have natural turf. Jalan Besar is simply a stopgap while the new stadium is being built.

At any rate, the Azkals did have a few moments where their first touch seemed to be off. And in one passage late, Phil Younghusband bafflingly lost an easy ball out of bounds. The hard ground can take some of the blame.

The commentators on ESPN were talking about the surface in the pregame show. They said that the ball simply does not behave on it the way it does on grass, and that it takes some getting used to. One of them also mentioned that the Singapore players themselves do not like playing on it.

They may not fancy it, but it was their friend on Wednesday.

Once again, the midfield play was wanting. To my recollection there were maybe two or three decent passages in the midfield. But the rest of the play in the center of the park was largely forgettable for the Philippines. And once again, too many long balls. Three in quick succession in one spurt of the second half.

Like in the first leg, the Azkals at times seemed unprepared, as if there was no clear tactical blueprint for the match, no rehearsed passing sequences.

I must admit that I am no coach. And that although I have played Football almost every week for the past ten years, I have rarely play competitively and have never received formal coaching myself. But I can see if a team has gelled or not, and the Philippines just didn't show it.

It's especially galling since the squad has played together and trained together for a while already. I must say that the coaching staff should take some blame for not being able to orchestrate these players, who are all individually very good, into a cohesive unit.

Chris Greatwich never got a minute in the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup. I was hoping he could come in to sub Angel Guirado at one point but it never happened. He has been a Suzuki Cup hero before and perhaps he could have added some spark. But we will never know.

Ed Sacapano is one of the feelgood stories of this AFF Suzuki run. The Army keeper did spill one ball in the 70th minute but other than that, he played a superb game.

At first glance it looks odd that he stood practically motionless as the ball whizzed past him on Khairul Amri's goal. That tells me that he was unsighted on the play, meaning there were players blocking his view of the shooter, and when he saw the shot it was too late to react. I play a lot of goalkeeper at the recreational level and I know exactly how that feels.

Sacapano pulled off a great save on Baihakki Khaizan's header in the 28th and another stop minutes later.

It was great to see him and Chieffy, the only other homegrown player to get playing time, shine. Caligdong came on at the half and served up some threatening balls into the box that were sadly not converted.

Singapore rose to the occasion with a solid, smart performance. The Lions fired on all cylinders early and were rewarded with a goal. But on defense they were organized as well.

One play stood out for me just before the half: Phil grabs the ball, I believe off a mistake from a Singaporean defender just outside the box. Immediately the Lions marked the Azkals like glue, and Phil had no one to pass to. Chance over.

In the second half when it perhaps became apparent that the Philippines would likely not score, the Lions jammed themselves into a compact defensive formation that the visitors could not break.

Then deep into injury time, Aleksandar Duric found space down the left flank. But instead of attacking, he wisely killed the ball into the corner to waste time.

Darren Hartmann said during the November friendly in Cebu that he thinks Singapore could be the surprise team of the tournament. Now I see why.

The 1-0 aggregate score truly does not paint a complete picture of how we were convincingly beaten by a superior team. Those two friendly victories might as well have happened ten years ago.

Coach Weiss said it best in the press con after the game: "Singapore's extra portion of experience and coolness helped them today and overall they are deserved winners over the two games."

Can we just lay off Nico Salva? So what if Nico thinks Football and/or the specific game was boring? Big fat hairy deal. No one is forced to like Football. Nobody is compelled to be an Azkals fan. Just because you don't want to be an Azkals fan doesn't make you a bad Filipino. Must every Filipino athlete watch every Filipino team that is playing all the time on TV? Can't a guy have a favorite sport and want to watch that over other games?

The uproar over his tweet is just totally out of whack in my opinion. Everyone needs to move on and perhaps take sport a little less seriously.

Losing sucks, but it's a part of the whole experience of sport. We all love to win, but without the pain of losing, we can't ever appreciate the joy of victory. I hope Azkals fans can understand this. There will always be ups and downs. As long as the team fights (which they admirably did in the last quarter of the game) then they deserve our support.

Afrer Manny Pacquiao lost to Timothy Bradley, Sports Illustrated quoted Manny as saying "don't give up on Boxing." I thought it was an extraordinary thing to say.

I'll echo that sentiment now. Azkals fans, please don't give up on Football. Don't give up on the Philippines. Don't give up on the Azkals.

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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Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.


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