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Azkals '2nd most improved' side in the world

July 29, 2011 8:52pm
The Philippines became the most improved team in the last year, jumping 25 places and boosting their rating by 177 points, based on the current World Football ELO Rankings.

Only Peru has improved more in the last year, rising 41 places and gaining 190 points due to their recent exploits in the Copa America.

As opposed to the FIFA rankings, the ELO rankings take into account the quality of the opposition to gain a more accurate ratings system based on performance.

This means that in FIFA rankings beating Brazil and beating Botswana would give you the same number of points, while the ELO rating system considers that beating Brazil is a much more difficult task and rewards that with more points.

With a complex formula devised by chess Grandmaster Arpad Elo, the winner of a match between two teams will see his ratings improve while the loser’s rating drops depending on the expected result of the match. According to these computations, the Philippines in the last year has been the second most improved side in the world.

Kuwait and the World Cup

It is interesting to note, then, that in these ELO rankings, Kuwait is 60th in the world while the Philippines is at 181st. This may be lower than the FIFA rankings but that's also due to the fact that more teams are rated in the ELO system, 232 compared to 206 countries by FIFA.

The Philippines, therefore, had the chance to upset a team 121 places above them in the ELO world rankings, which would have been an incredible feat. Consider also that Kuwait is ranked higher than any Southeast Asian country so the Kuwait-Philippines match up was a huge signal to the rest of the region—that the Philippines can compete at the highest level in Asia.

Stephan Schrock, a marked man before the game, put the Philippines in front with a thunderous strike from just over 20 yards and the Philippines looked to press when Kuwaiti Fahed Al Ebrahim was sent off. The Philippines eventually lost 5-1 on aggregate.

Yet the Philippines has much to be proud of with stellar performances from Schrock, Rob Gier and Neil Etheridge in particular. Scoring his first goal for the Philippines, the Filipino-German put in a good shift for the team and looked biting in midfield, while several last-ditch challenges from Gier stopped numerous Kuwaiti attacks. Etheridge at goal made several good stops, including a brilliant fingertip save diving to his left in the second half.

Coach Michael Weiss praised the players after the game for their work ethic while thanking the fans and press for their support. When asked about some of the newer players, he singled out Stephan Schrock as a player who is "on another level".

Bringing great work ethic, technique and vision to the team, manager Dan Palami has also previously noted that Schrock has one of the best attitudes of the players, too, despite his obvious skill.

Weiss commented that "even though he was not at his best (Thursday) night he was on a different level. You could see the difference with his incredible goal."

Speaking of the team generally, Weiss is looking forward to the time when the Philippines will have a full set of players to choose from, with injuries and club commitments keeping Denis Cagara, Paul Mulders, Chris Greatwich and others from joining the team. However with such a young bunch of players, he noted that they are a "good group to be developed" and the future looks bright for the second most improved side in the world.

Looking to the future

Though the team has now been eliminated from the World Cup and must wait four more years for the next Qualifiers they can be proud of their performance not only against Kuwait but throughout the last year, as better shown by the ELO ratings.

It was Jaron Genota, a passionate and knowledgeable football fan, who brought these rankings to the attention of the public on Twitter. While FIFA uses a part-ELO based rating system for women's football it is somewhat surprising that it hasn't incorporated it more for the men’s game.

Looking to the future, Weiss set the next target as winning a medal at the SEA Games, believing the Under-23 team has a chance in Indonesia while looking to the AFC Challenge Cup to prove how far the full men's team has come, hoping to reach the semi-finals.

However, the next time Azkals fans will see their team in action will be in September when they compete in the Long Teng Cup against Hong Kong, Macau and host Taiwan, with a good chance of winning the tournament.

Azkals fans are understandably proud of the team and the direction they are going. A heart-thumping show of support from the crowd at the Rizal Stadium lifted the players' spirits after the game and showed the class of Philippine fans, cheering not only for their team when they win but also when they lose, knowing this is when the team needs it most.

The team is progressing at each showing and if they continue in this manner they will continue to climb the World Rankings and compete in the final stages of regional competitions. Using these as platforms to prove themselves not just in Southeast Asia but across the continent, the team is heading in the right direction and the Kaholeros booster squad are right to proclaim in huge banners: "We Believe". - HS, GMA News



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