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First half header lifts Azerbaijan past PHL Azkals

March 6, 2014 1:09am

(Updated 6:11am) A header by Rufat Dadashov in the 26th minute was all it took, as the Philippine national men's football team, the Azkals, bowed to the higher-ranked Azerbaijan, 1-0, at the Al Shabab stadium in Dubai, Wednesday (early Thursday, PHL time).
 
Azerbaijan is part of the UEFA Confederation of FIFA, the same confederation as Spain, Germany, Italy, and other football super powers. They are currently ranked 93rd in the world, 34 notches above the Philippines, which is in the 127th spot.

The Azkals flew to Dubai from Malaysia the day after their 0-0 draw with the Harimau Malaya. They were met there by their reinforcements: Stephan Schrock, Jerry Lucena, and Javier Patiño. Roland Mueller fell sick at the last minute and was unable to join the team, leaving Patrick Deyto as the lone keeper in the squad.  

Coach Thomas Dooley, in just his second game in charge of the Azkals, had the same 4-2-3-1 formation for the Azerbaijan game as he did in Malaysia. He put his reinforcements into his Starting XI though, replacing Balot Doctora with Schrock, Chris Greatwich with Lucena, and Mark Hartmann with Patiño.

The Azerbaijanis all seemed inches taller and wider than the Azkals, but it was pretty clear from the start that the Philippines was not going to simply bow down to the Azerbijanis, FIFA standings notwithstanding.

At the eighth minute, Schrock won a free kick, and moments later, an awesome build-up play saw the Azkals' first attempt. Misagh Bahadoran had run down the left, passing the ball to Jeffrey Christiaens, who crossed the ball to Patiño, who had gotten into the box. Patiño’s first touch was not good, however, and the ball went wide.

The bigger Azerbaijanis seemed to go down too easily versus the Azkals. A yellow card was already shown to Martin Steuble even before 20 minutes had elapsed in the game. On the flipside, some clear fouls against the Philippines were not called.

At the 26th minute, an Azerbaijani header by Rufat Dadashov off a free kick saw the back of the net.

However, the Azkals did not slow down or stop to think about the goal. They kept right on with the gameplan, not panicking and resorting to long balls.

Minutes later, Misagh was taken down by the goal-scorer, who was shown a yellow. Then the referee went on a carding spree. There would be five yellow cards shown in the half, two to the Philippines and three to Azerbaijan.

In a slightly comic incident near the 40th minute, the referee stared down an Azerbaijani, who was vigorously protesting a foul called on him. The Azerbaijani slinked away after the stare down. That is not something we see a lot of in the Philippines, where referees are questioned and stared down by the players instead.

The second half saw a lot of adjustments for the Azkals, first of which was Patrick Reichelt being sent on for Misagh at the half. Dooley, only in his second game with the Azkals, has used all available substitutions — 6 during FIFA friendlies — in both games.

Phil Younghusband was not looking 100 percent coming into this game. Early in the second half, after a pretty basic tackle, he went down and held on to his right ankle, which has been bothering him for several games in the UFL League.

At the 53rd minute, Younghusband went down again, clutching his ankle. However, a minute later, he made what was probably the best chance for the Azkals in the game. He found himself just inside the box and blasted the ball goalward. Sadly, the shot went straight into the hands of the goal keeper.

It was clear that Younghusband and Schrock were marked by the Azerbaijanis. Younghusband had at least one defender assigned to him whenever he threatened or got into a good position. As for Schrock, three or four Azerbaijani players seemed to collapse on him even in the midfield.

At the 63rd minute, a Younghusband free kick went just inches over the crossbar.

Dooley continued with his adjustments, he had earlier sent in Chris Greatwich on for Lucena, and now he sent in Anton del Rosario for Simone Rota.

Then there was an awesome header attempt by Reichelt at the 75th minute. The newly-signed Ceres-La Salle player dove to get to the ball, his attempt sending the ball flying up and toward the goal, but keeper was able to get a mitt on it, swatting it out at the final moment.

Azerbaijan then seemed to slow the game down, content to hold on to their one goal lead.

But the Azkals pushed on and adjusted a little more. Dooley sent in Jason de Jong for Steuble and Mark Hartmann for Patino. OJ Porteria also entered the game at around the 90th minute, when Christianes was, literally, golf carted off the pitch.

The Azkals had seven attempts at goal in the second half after having none in the first half, sadly, none of those attempts were converted. This game, however, was not a bitter loss for the Azkals, who used to be blown away by teams much lower-ranked than Azerbaijan.

The Azkals played a clear system throughout the game, a system presumably imposed by coach Dooley. Although its effectivity may not be there yet, and will still have to go through more practices and games before it shows, the concrete beginnings of a system of play are already in place. Things are definitely looking up for the Azkals. - RAF/AMD, GMA News




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