Fair Play: Here's to our A-team!

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's June 13 edition)
I DON'T know what was more impressive last night, that we beat Bahrain for the first time or that we only had 10 days of training time to do so.

Concerns on the lack of preparation for the national team, which even had less than six days to train as a complete unit as the last member arrived on June 5, were immediately thrown out the window the moment we took the field. Lack of training time? Chemistry or what have you? No problem!

Heck, in one of the plays I liked in the first half, Iaian Ramsay, who was making his debut, found Phil Younghusband just outside the box and the leading international striker tested the Bahraini keeper's will with a wonderful shot that should have gone in.

In any other games with the previous squad, Phil would have been taken to task for forcing a shot that far, but with a loaded team and his role more defined, he can pick his moments and not force shots out of nothing. And we all know that when he does, it gets the excitement level up a notch.

It was still 0-0 at half-time and for the first time in quite a long time, I was confident the team would not only play better in the second half, we would beat Bahrain. Yes, we were ranked lower than the visitors but Fifa rankings are funny and are never really the perfect indicator on the talent of a squad, especially for those teams ranked just outside the 100s. That team that took the field against Bahrain is easily a whole lot better than the best-ranked Azkals squad we've ever had.

Then the second-half happened and after a funny sequence that I hope will become viral in the next few days, the most unexpected of all Azkals players scored.

First, after a foul on Ramsay, Javier Patino got into a shoving match with a Bahrain player, who after getting pushed back, spent a few seconds thinking the hometeam would be better off without the Fil-Spanish striker, fell to the ground, clutching his face, as if Manny Pacquiao himself connected with a one-two.

Thanks to the replay, we knew what really happened and Mick Pennisi's infamous flop now has a rival.

In the ensuing freekick, Misagh Bahadoran, derided by some for his failure to score internationally despite success at the club level, surprised everybody but himself by scoring the first goal.

It wasn’t Ramsay, Schrock, Younghusband or the other expected scorers, it was Lord Misagh, who timed his slide to perfection to redirect the freekick, 1-0.

He could have gotten a second one 10 minutes later, but his shot was blocked and the ball, thankfully, fell to Patino, who cashed in the gift with a point-blank strike for 2-0.

Patino, another Azkal who’s earned the ire of fans because of his numerous absences in previous campaign, was instantly forgiven.

And of course, just to remind fans—or to even shoot down expectations from getting all over the roof—Bahrain got one back in injury time after some nifty passes but still, that late goal isn’t a damper on the way how the Azkals dominated the game, despite playing most of the match without our best player in Stephen Schrock, who got injured.

So, we finally got the answer to the question we all asked—how good a team we would get if we get our best players available?

We got our A-team and they sure didn’t disappoint us.

It’s too early to say, but one can’t help dream, if this squad did that to Bahrain, what can they do in the Suzuki Cup?


Rising Son said…
Mike, I personally watched the Azkals last Thursday. It was a sight lovely to watch. Rarely did I see long balls that they were known for but what I saw were precision shorts especially when pressed by the opponents. This is really our A-team! But what if we had our A crowd there just like the Mongolia and Sri Lanka games. It's a pity that the crowd was not present. We were officially only about 6k spectators and to make matters worse there were about three to four groups cheering differently. So the home factor has not been a factor for the Azkals which is why I am commenting. The next home game should be in Panaad as the Negrenses deserve this next game because of their passion for football and support to the Azkals. If Cebu had a stadium that could fit around 15k I would have pushed for Cebu. I pity Coach Dooley that he hasnt experienced a sold out game. The only sold out game that I was a part of was the 2012 Suzuki cup and it was amazing. I just hope the next game would be in Panaad. Im a Manileno but I am an Azkal fan too thats why Panaad should be the next venue.

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