Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fair Play: PHL guns for semis spot in Challenge Cup

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's May 24 edition)
A FEW weeks ago, when some fans were saying that we were one of the favorites to win the AFC Challenge Cup, I refused to join in and simply said that before we aim for the title, we should get out of the group stage first.

Today, we are a step closer and the only one standing in the way is Turkmenistan, a tough team hobbled by two red cards to key players—goalkeeper Nikita Gorbunov and defender Serdar Annaorazov

The draw against Afghanistan and that 2-0 win against Laos the other night has the Philippines tied with Afghanistan at first on four points. And we only need a draw against Turkmenistan to advance but a win could allow us to top the group, provided the Laos defense hold the Afghans.

The breaks may have gone our way, but to beat Turkmenistan, we have to play better than the way we did against Laos. Sure, we won 2-0 against a team we haven’t defeated in years but the result was expected. Besides, that no-win record against Laos could have ended long ago, had we faced them post Vietnam 2010. (I searched the Fifa database to confirm this but I was reminded today that we did play Laos in September 2012 but that friendly was scratched from the Fifa accredited matches. Thanks for the input Ysabs) 

One of the factors of that poor showing against Laos could have been the changes in the starting lineup, with six changes in the game against our Southeast Asian neighbors, including Phil Younghusband and Rob Gier who were suspended for the first match.

Why so many changes? I think Thomas Dooley is still trying to find that perfect lineup against the dangerous Turkmenistan and the Laos game was the perfect time to tinker with the lineup.

Gier, the captain, had an almost costly mistake late in the match, giving the ball up to a Laos striker, who thankfully panicked and hit a shot that was as accurate as a drunk fan’s dart throw.

The biggest disappointment of the night, of course, was Phil himself. The Philippines leading striker with 34 goals could have added to that tally with a chance that rarely comes, finding himself open inside the box with only the keeper to beat. But the striker who could score that goal with his eyes closed 11 out of 10 times missed at point-blank range.

However, I’m confident that the Phil will old will show up against Turkmenistan and he will just shrug off that poor showing against Laos. They guy hasn’t played a full international in quite sometime and we can write off that game against Laos as his catching up time.

Against Turkmenistan, we need him to be at his best form.

Turkmenistan may be reeling from its 3-1 loss to Afghanistan, but the former runner-up is still a dangerous team and is in a must-win situation against us to make the knockout stage. The Philippines, on the other hand, only needs a draw to make the semifinal for the second straight time.

Can we do it?

We will find out today and we may have to do it without Juani Guirado and Neil Etheridge, who are nursing injuries.

After that Laos game, I think the best is still to come from this present lineup

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