Saturday, October 13, 2012

We just drew Bahrain and it was beautiful

Let's be honest here, going into the game against Bahrain, who among you expected to win it?

I certainly didn't, not because I have no faith in the team, but simply because of two facts going into the match--we were playing a No. 115 team in their own court and we were fielding, what basically is a squad that hasn't played together in months as it was an entirely different lineup from the Peace Cup.

So, I'm mighty proud of that 0-0 draw against Bahrain and not only because Bahrain was ranked 32 places higher than us, it was because how the team played.  Question, did you hear the term--or read it on twitter--park the bus last night?

I didn't. It's because we didn't.  Right until the final whistle we were very much in the match, and if not for some plucky saves by Bahrain's keeper, and an unfortunate slip by Denis Wolf, we could have gotten a goal or two.

Speaking of Denis Wolf, the guy had, by my count, at least five glorious chances, evoking "what if" questions regarding Phil Younghusband.  He had a one-on-one that many said Phil would have converted easily, while forgetting the fact that Phil had a similar one-on-one against Kuwait in the World Cup qualifiers, and he also bungled it.

That one-on-one stirred memories of Phil, and I think, his second miss also evoked memories of one striker who wasn't there--Joshua Beloya.  In one move, Wolf tried to control the ball with his head--while on the run--and got a volley, but his shot wasn't on target.  You know what that reminded me of?  Joshua Beloya's winning goal against Laos in the SEA Games in 2011. 

Save for that trip inside the penalty box in the final minutes, Wolf did the best he could do with the half-chances he got. He could have done better but at least, he didn't do worse.  Anyway, I hope Wolf recovers in the next game, like how he did in the Peace Cup--misfiring in the first, a hat trick in the second.

It's not the miss on the one-on-one that I'm interested, but who made that pass? Who had the vision, and the finesse, to connect with Denis Wolf?  

And another thing, Rob Gier--is he 32?--saved Roland Muller a few times that night, including in the first half when Muller failed to collect a header and the ball was headed straight to the goal.  Although the replay shows the Muller could have gotten ball before it went in, Gier beat him to it first and cleared it.  Gier, too, had a few timely tackles inside the box.

Muller, too, had a fine save in the early minutes, stopping Bahrain's first attempt at goal.

Overall, it was a great showing by the team and it's great, too, that fans are learning to appreciate a draw and its significance.  This was against a team that on paper, was a lot better than us but was just lucky to escape with a draw.

Back in January 2011, team manager Dan Palami said that aside from aiming to be one of the top three teams in Southeast Asia, one of the long-term goals for the national teams is to crack the top third in Asia in the next three years.

Bahrain, at 115th in the world and at 15th of 47 AFC teams, is right there at the edge of the top third. It's good to know that we could belong with them.  

Playing Bahrain, the bottom of the top third in Asia, was the right first step in getting there. Kuwait, at 112th in the world and at 13th in AFC, is next.

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