Thoughts on the PHL-Tha Suzuki semis match

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column-rick olivaresDID you feel butterflies in your stomach after the Philippines drew Thailand in the semifinals stage of the Suzuki Cup?

Sure. After their strong showing in the last staging of Southeast Asia’s top football competition, the Thais are strong favorites to win it all for the fourth time.

The Philippine Men’s National Team (PMNT) is swimming against the tide of history and pressure.

International Football Federation (Fifa) lists the Philippines with a 15-2 record (that doesn’t include an unsanctioned match that also resulted in a loss) against the Thais and an egregious goal difference of 60-9!

While it behooves us to not ignore history, for all intents and purposes, it’s 0-0, as Thailand has opted to parade a wholly different squad, while the Philippines has few holdovers from its previous roster in the 2012 games.

Despite the changes in rosters, the last time the two national sides battled, Thailand took the 2012 Suzuki Cup opener, 2-1, but had to fend off a second-half surge by the Philippines. Then, under former coach Winfried Schaefer, Thailand booked a finals seat only to lose to Singapore, 3-2, on aggregate.

Under new coach Kiatisuk Senamuang, they have somewhat missed a beat despite finishing atop their group stage, 3-0. They only have a plus-four goal difference  as compared to their plus-seven goal difference in the 2012 games.

Is Thailand beatable? Yes, they are. They are far from the nearly imperious side that romped its way for much of the 2012 tournament. Senamuang only brought back two players from Schaefer’s team–goalkeeper Kawin Thammasatchanan and midfielder Adul Lahso. Conspicuously missing are stars Teerasil Dangda (who is the first player from Southeast Asia to suit up in La Liga with Almeria) and Datsakorn Thonglao.

In their group stage matches in this 2014 tournament, they needed some last-minute magic in their first two matches to pull out a win (an 89th-minute penalty that Charyl Chappuis converted against Singapore and a 90th-minute strike by substitute Adisak Kaisorn against Malaysia). Dispatching Myanmar was a little easier for them.

The Philippines, on the other hand, finished with a 2-0-1 record and are coming off a 3-1 loss to Vietnam. The wards of Thomas Dooley looked flustered in the first half, where Thailand did all of its damage in the first 58 minutes, before the Philippines came back to put some fear into Toshiya Miura’s side. One cannot discount the fact that the PMNT finished strong.

The Vietnamese turned the tables on the Philippines by unleashing its brand of pressure defense. They used their superior speed to harry Dooley’s ball carriers and moved the ball up quickly in hopes of beating the Filipino defenders.

Vietnam was decisive in their approach. Their strikes even from long range were packed with serious intent and sent Philippine No. 1 Patrick Deyto scampering in and around the box.

 

What must the PMNT must do?

Looking at the upcoming home match on December 6 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, the Philippines must learn from the loss by immediately setting the tone of the match. They must go back to what got them those first wins against Lao PDR and Indonesia by using their speed, power and pace.

They must redouble their efforts when harrying this dangerous Thai team that can win it all even without Dangda and Thonglao.

I know this team is better offensively, but I’d like to recommend a more defensive approach. A defense that is not only stout but forces the opposition to commit errors.

One of the world’s great club managers, Jose Mourinho, has all his teams embracing his tenets:

  •  The team that makes fewer mistakes wins.
  •  You have to be provocative in your approach in your attack to force the opposition into errors.
  •  When playing an away match, instead of trying to be better than the home side, force them to commit mistakes and pounce on them.
  •  Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake.
  •  Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake.
  •  Whoever has the ball has fear.
  •  Whoever does not have is stronger.

The last four sound incredibly radical in its thinking but the man has won everywhere he has managed—Portugal, England, Italy and Spain—so he must know what he is preaching.

And I subscribe to his thinking. The old linear thinking of possession = goals = wins = trophies isn’t as solid footing as it once was the moment Barcelona started slipping away.

While it would seem that shots attempted is a better metric in determining a game winner, it does to an extent. But it doesn’t guarantee a win. The Loyola Meralco Sparks of the 2011 UFL Cup would know that all too well. Ditto with Liverpool against Chelsea late in the last Premier League season.

Having said all that, it’s resolute defending and quality attacks that spell the difference. Furthermore, it is imperative to score early and to score even more. Scoring first forces the team that is trailing to somewhat go for Plan B.

Surely, the memory of the scoreless draw against Singapore in the semifinals of the 2012 Suzuki Cup must not be forgotten. You do not squander a magnificent chance to win with the home-field advantage.

The Thais have been lucky, but in football, it isn’t sorely about skill as there’s an element of luck involved. As young as they are, they have show great endgame resiliency when focus starts to slip.

So the Philippines will have its hands full.

 

What can the fans do?

RMFS must be turned into a bastion of doom. I am not sure where we are in terms of stadium culture but not allowing drums or flags doesn’t help. Four years after “the Miracle of Hanoi,” the chants and fight songs are not yet anywhere. I don’t think chants of “Azkals” will put the fear of God into the Thais or any other team for the matter.

But packing that old joint, cheering every play by the nationals and booing the heck out of the visitors should help.

This is a must-win game for the Philippines. That does add pressure. The moment the 2010 Suzuki Cup ended, the onus was on the country to show that it was no fluke. PMNT Manager Dan Palami is a seer. Even in 2010, he said his dream was to see the country make it to the 120s in Fifa’s rankings. Check!

The other was to become a feared side in Southeast Asia. Check!

Now. We need some silverware to validate that.

We—not just the team but also the fans—have to help out in checking out that last item.