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Suzuki Cup: Azkals not out of it, but need result versus Vietnam

November 25, 2012 7:54pm

Thailand defeated the Philippines Saturday at the Rajamangala Stadium 2-1, but the result doesn’t mean the Azkals are out of the tournament. The top two teams in the group will qualify for the next round, and so Azkals fans would be best hoping that Thailand win their remaining games against Vietnam and Myanmar, despite the former's dirty tactics on the pitch.

In fact the Champions of the last two Suzuki Cups lost their opening games, Malaysia losing 5-1 to Indonesia before going on to beat them in the 2010 Final, while Vietnam lost to Thailand in their 2008 opener, before getting revenge on them in the Final. Indeed the last time the eventual champions of this tournament won their opening game was back in 2002, when Thailand beat Laos 5-1.

If history is anything to go by, then the Philippines could well meet Thailand in the Final and beat them. Yet for now Azkals fans will be supporting Thailand as it will make their job of qualifying from the group stage easier if Thailand can beat Vietnam and Myanmar.

After Vietnam’s 1-1 draw with Myanmar, a win for the Philippines against Vietnam will put them in the best position to qualify in second place. If they manage just a draw however, then it starts to get complicated. Qualifying for the next round of the Suzuki Cup is still in the Azkals’ hands, in other words, but they have to beat Vietnam to keep it that way.

Deconstructing Thailand

The first half was a masterclass from Thailand. Datsakorn Thonglao, Teerasil Dangda, and other teammates from Muangthong United showed the beautiful transition Thailand have made into clinical, quick, passing and moving under Coach Winfried Schafer. Based on the opening 45 minutes they thoroughly deserved the 2-0 lead.

Yet football is often said to be a game of two halves and the introduction of Marwin Angeles pushed Paul Mulders and Angel Guirado further upfield. The Azkals began carving out chances, but this was after Thonglao had been stretchered off the pitch later in the second half. The AFF Suzuki Cup website reports that he was taken off due to a reoccurrence of a groin injury and he’s now doubtful for the Myanmar clash.

The importance of chemistry

If Thonglao is not available for Thailand it may well define their Suzuki Cup campaign, as he was that good. His perfectly weighted passes from the middle of the park drew in defenders and cut open the Azkals’ backline. That he was feeding his club teammates through most of the game only adds to the sense of chemistry the players had built.

The Thais knew exactly where each other would be and that allowed them to play at a pace that the Azkals couldn’t match. Rob Gier and Juani Guirado made their share of tackles and were strong at the center of defense, but they simply couldn’t cope with the speed.

Thailand tried to protect that two-goal lead in the second half, and that proved to be a risky strategy. Had the referee seen Teerasil Dangda’s elbow better, the Thai’s main finisher may well have been sent off and suspended for three games. As it was, Reichelt’s introduction proved to be effective, as the Global winger turned his man well and fed Paul Mulders who was composed in his finish. The Philippines’ fitness levels were also impressive in the game, as they chased down the ball until the final whistle, while Thailand looked like they were beginning to tire. Fitness could be a huge factor in the latter stages of the group stages, with two days rest between each game.

A lot has been said of the way the Thais played in the second half, the fouls, high tackles, as they simply stopped playing football. That was probably more due to Thonglao’s absence though, as they immediately missed that playmaker in the center. If the Azkals could have had a man on him, the holding midfielder, than perhaps he could have been stopped.

Manager Dan Palami was disappointed with the way the Azkals tried to break down Thailand. Earlier Sunday he said that “The first twenty minutes was OK until our focus was affected. We played for a long time with ten men once Phil [Younghusband] got injured. We played too many long balls when we could actually build up properly with our midfield. We will make the necessary adjustments against Vietnam.”

Preparing for Vietnam

Vietnam is currently the highest ranked nation in South East Asia, yet they looked sluggish against Myanmar. They threatened most on the counter but still looked beatable. Manager Dan Palami said that “I think we stand a good chance if we play our game. We need to use our midfielders to link with the strikers, which means no long balls and a compact defense. They are very vulnerable to counters.”

If the Azkals are to make it through this group stage they will have to repeat their heroics of 2010 and pull off a result against Vietnam. Back then Vietnam were the reigning Suzuki Cup champions, and since 2010 they haven’t lost to South East Asian opposition.

26-year-old Le Cong Vinh will be the player to watch, with a strike record of 31 goals in 54 games. An impressive rate of over a goal every two games, he will be the focal point of the Vietnamese attack.

Gier and Guirado will once more have to be solid to stop Vietnam, though they may have an easier job of it this time around than against Thailand. If the Azkals can get the ball on the ground and play, they won’t just be underdogs to defeat Vietnam, but they will stand an excellent chance of a positive result.

The Azkals’ management remains confident in their team and that they can achieve that, even if Coach Michael Weiss will be sitting in the stands to serve his suspension for this game. - AMD, GMA News
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