06 March 2014

Azkals showing progress; Narrow loss highlights better passing


DUBAI—The goals will come. For now, the Philippine Azkals are taking plenty of encouragement on back-to-back solid performances under new coach Thomas Dooley, even including a 1-0 defeat to higher-ranked Azerbaijan Wednesday night in a friendly at Al Shabab Stadium here.
Although they failed to score in the two matches they played on this trip, the Azkals again showcased a vastly improved passing and pressing game, causing problems to their European counterparts who fielded their “A” team for the match.
The Azkals did not sound like the losing team after the match, taking heart at their rapid development.
“I think it was a great game for us,” said midfielder Stephan Schrock. “Just imagine a year ago, we could not have played Azerbaijan this way. It feels good that everyone is more confident on the ball now.”
The Azkals were left undone by a 27th-minute header from defender Yunuszade Elvin, who leapt unchallenged on a corner kick to direct the ball past Patrick Deyto.
Physically imposing and tactically and technically superior, Azerbaijan started the game with an attack-minded formation, but slowly dropped back defending when the Azkals found their passing rhythm. On many occasions, the Azkals were able to extricate themselves from tight situations when the Azers pressed.
It was in the attacking third where the Azkals were left wanting as Javier Patino, Phil Younghusband and Schrock spurned good scoring chances.
Patino could not get solid contact on Jeff Christiaens’ cross to the far post in the 23rd minute, while Younghusband saw his 30-yard effort saved. Schrock also shot off target from a tight angle.
On the other end, the Azkals, with Martin Steuble controlling the midfield, prevented the opposition from creating clear cut chances save for the goal off the corner kick and looked like Azerbaijan’s equal for long stretches.
“I’m happy and proud at the way the guys play because this is the football that we want to play,” said Dooley, whose side also drew with Malaysia, 0-0, last Saturday. “We never panicked against bigger and stronger players and I think that was the biggest part of our game.”
Dooley has two more months to prepare the Azkals for the AFC Challenge Cup where a spot in the Asian Cup is at stake. He had six training sessions for the two matches and was actually surprised at how his team was able to absorb his system which is concentrated more on building attacks from defensive positions through short 1-2 passing.
“It’s a work in progress but so far it’s a remarkable improvement from where we came from,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami.

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