(photo from interaksyon.com)
The fixtures for Group E of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualification round is getting near. And it will be held in Manila. And expectations are high for the Philippine national football team, also known as the Azkals, who won Third Place in the 2012 Challenge cup main tournament. And it will be no easy task.
In anticipation of the tournament, many Filipino football fans are getting excited to see their own team take on the challenge again for the 2014 edition of the tournament.
I may be excited as well, but as my fellows at usapangfootball.com have argued, failing to qualify for the 2014 main draw will have a massive impact, not just for the team, but for Philippine football in general.
So I present to you a worst-case scenario that every Pinoy football fan must prepare if the Azkals won’t qualify. But please, don’t take it seriously, yet.
But first, critics on the media and on the Web have pointed out the blunders of Hans Michael Weiss during his first two years as head coach of the Azkals. They have blamed on his tactical and relationship incapacity for the bad things the team had experienced in the last two years. If you want to see the longest, the most comprehensive and the most heated discussion over the Web about him, read through the Is there a need to replace Coach Weiss thread on UsapangFootball.
Weiss was given a contract extension six weeks after he his previous contract expired. And that transition period was filled with mud-slinging, cussing, and accusation against Weiss for his “bad performance,” based on the words of PFF Chair Nonong Araneta he gave out early this year. Many critical fans on the interwebs have been joyous of the six-month extension he was offered. Other supporters were not.
Weiss gave this statement when he signed the extension and leading the team to a win against Myanmar last February 6th:
“People here rather than seeing the positive, they are criticizing. We are doing everything to bring football on a higher level,” Weiss said.
“They shouldn’t say we’re just lucky and all these stuff. A little bit more positive approach from the public and fans will be appreciated.” (Source)
But we cannot help but see a reality that the innate ability of the Filipino to be very critical vocal, speculative and frank, which have been beneficial most of the time. Many Filipinos are seen to go beyond the face value when it comes to critical decisions by anyone who holds a high-profile position in the country, including in sports. And it includes Coach Weiss.
Now we move on to our main discussion.
You may have seen how other teams in Group E have been preparing for the qualification tourney, and how strong they are now, at least on paper. And you should have seen how the teams in recently-concluded Groups A, C and D have fared.
If you did see the previous performances of the recently concluded fixtures of Groups A, C and D, most of them were either high-scoring (mostly against Guam and Northern Mariana Islands) or close (1-0, 1-1 or 0-0). Bangladesh and India enjoy their healthy goal differential after their good performances. I’d still think India might qualify if the 2nd place from Group B has a worse goal difference, but then again, I cannot count Pakistan off, and how will they conquer Tajikistan and how much will they score against Macau.
The recent training camp of Turkmenistan shows that they can overcome teams with high defensive pressing, or teams high on attack. Cambodia did not look that good in the last Suzuki Cup, but at least they managed to win against strong teams like Malaysia’s U23s in a recent friendly, which look like they’re still a team that might give the Philippines a run for their money (remember the goalless draw on September last year? Many of the European-based players were there.) Brunei may look like inexperienced at some point, but because the fixtures happen to fall on FIFA match dates, their strongest players from DPMM FC could raise questions if how more (or how less) Turkmenistan and the Philippines can score against them.
So, what would be the worst case to make the Azkals receive a massive humiliation from the football community? Lose or draw against Brunei and Cambodia, let alone what happens against Turkmenistan.
The 2011 SEA Games match between the U23’s of Philippines and Brunei, in which the latter won, and the senior team’s goalless draw against Cambodia in September 2012 can set as an example. Both had European-based players. Both were coached by Weiss. Both were deemed to be the strongest squad on paper. Yet circumstances let them down. A bad pitch. Players failing to gel. Weiss’s apparent tantrums. Stephan Schroeck and Jason De Jong getting fouls. All these have happened.
Will these happen again during this year’s tournament? Some would say yes, some would say no.
But apparent in the team under Weiss, critics argue, was that the team underachieved and underperformed. Even with the strongest players available, they depended on long balls, having a high backline, less ground passing, and such others. Winning Third Place in the 2012 Challenge Cup, winning the 2012 Peace Cup and getting to the semi-finals of the Suzuki Cup for the 2nd time, they argued, was an underachievement, they say, as these were tainted with controversy – Neil Etheridge getting suspended by kicking a Turkmeni player and shouting foul words on the sidelines during the match against Palestine, Phil and James Younghusband not in the lineup due to an accusation of being “prima donnas,” and the complaints from local-based players for not being included in the final squad of the Suzuki Cup.
And that’s not even the whole story yet.
(to be continued)