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On the pitch: Azkals versus Malaysia

March 1, 2012 2:40pm
Going into Wednesday’s match against Malaysia, the Azkals pretty much had everything to gain and nothing to lose. If they won, they would have claimed bragging rights over the reigning Suzuki Cup champions. If they lost, it would be precisely because they’re going up against a team of such caliber.
So it’s a bit of an irony that the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
However, in the span of the game, Azkals fans saw some encouraging things, though to be fair, the team also had its fair share of frustrating moments. If you overlooked some aspects of “the beautiful game” that both sides put on last night, here are the highlights.
Denis Wolf debuts and scores
In his first time playing in a FIFA-sanctioned game, Denis Wolf proved why he deserves to be a starter for the national team. After all, Coach Michael Weiss would not sit out veterans like Ian Araneta for just anybody.
In the 34th minute, Wolf made the Philippines’ only goal and gave us the upperhand, 1-nil. He also had a lot of good attempts in the second half that only lacked finishing touches. Of course though, he wouldn’t have made that our country’s sole goal if it wasn’t for Jason Sabio’s long throw in.
Jason Sabio drops weight and becomes a monster defender
Jason Sabio’s talent has never been in question. But in the absence of defensive stalwarts Aly Borromeo, Anton Del Rosario and Rob Gier, he was the leader out back.
He apparently dropped 15 pounds over the break and the results were telling as he played more comfortably and efficiently. He had throw-in’s that could be mistaken as corner kicks, and last-minute saves at the box that helped the Azkals maintain their lead early on.
Malaysia scores at the end of regulation
But not all games end like fairytales. Right as the regulation period ended and the injury time began, Ahmad Shakir Md Ali hit a goal to tie the score at 1-1.
Safee Sali, the Malaysian squad’s version of Phil Younghusband, failed to convert any of his attempts, but at that crucial moment, made a smart pass to Ahmad who had a better view of the goal.
Sabio, who was running after Safee, fell to ground as he tried to reach the ball. No one else was able to block Ahmad’s attack; not even star goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who missed the ball by only a few inches.
Etheridge was left on his knees, probably still astounded at what just happened. Not everybody gets so lucky as to score at the 91st minute after so many failed attempts.
Angel Guirado attempts an overhead kick
Okay, so it didn’t go in. But Angel Guirado’s form when he made that overhead kick deserved the number of tweets and replays it got on television.
Guirado didn’t have a lot of shining moments in this match, but really wowed the crowd with this particular kick. It would’ve gone into the net perfectly (it was only a few inches under the crossbar), had the Malaysian goalkeeper not reached it.
Are we ready for the AFC Challenge Cup?
After all the competitions and friendlies, the question that remains is this: Are the Azkals ready for the 2012 Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup?
Coach Weiss said that this faceoff against the Malaysians is a gauge for the team’s development in the past 16 months. A 1-1 finish is something to be proud of, considering the fact that the Malaysians are the Suzuki Cup champions (The Suzuki Cup by the way is the same tournament that catapulted the Azkals into fame back in 2010).
Moreover, the Azkals were missing a few players who would have contributed significantly. Team captain Aly Borromeo is still recovering from his ACL injury. Chieffy Caligdong also sat out because of injuries on the LCL, MCL and ACL on his left knee. Rob Gier did not suit up either as he is nursing an injured calf.
The addition of talents from the United Football League helped the team too. It not only gave Coach Weiss a better rotation, he also found players who could be honed to be future football stalwarts for the national team.
The AFC Challenge Cup will kick off in Nepal in two weeks. While it still hasn’t been confirmed whether Filipino-foreigners such as Paul Mulders, Stephan Shrock, Dennis Cagara and Jerry Lucena  will be able to suit up for the country, it’s pretty clear that the Azkals know what’s at stake and what they’re capable of. - AMD, GMA News

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