Calling a spade a spade.

I just came home from the first-ever match I saw at University of Makati, which was between the Azkals and an all-star team of United Football League (UFL) players. I don’t really follow the local leagues, but this one seemed particularly interesting. I figured I’d go and update myself with the PHL NT, something which I haven’t done in a couple of months (so many new additions to the team, my head is spinning already).

So, this was also the first time I’ve attended a match where the crowd pretty much cheered for both teams. Also, I don’t know why I just manage to find myself seated amid a bevy of James Younghusband fangirls. Nothing against James, but the constant clanging of “Cheyms!” and squeals every single time he: a) touches the ball; b) falls to ground; or c) running in slow motion in their minds is amusing really… until it starts to get annoying.

That said, to cut the long story short, the UFL All-Stars won over the Azkals 4-3. The score would probably have been tied if not for UFL’s last goal at the last minute of injury time. If you watch football for the goals or for the cute boys, fine, it was probably an enjoyable game. If you tend to take on a critical eye toward the fabled PHL NT (like I usually do, unless it involves Phil Younghusband without a shirt, harharhar), the results leave much room for concern.

Sure, some ardent supporters will say that the score doesn’t tell the entire story—I think, though, that the score was pretty much an indication of problem areas for the national team. I think the most glaring problem is the defense. I don’t necessarily agree with Etheridge being the weakest link today, but hey, given that this match seems to be treated as an indication of the team’s progress since the AFC Challenge Cup group stages a couple of months back, the expectations were pretty high. And high expectations usually mean not conceding four goals. I do think though that the other defenders were more at fault—sloppy passes, being caught flat-footed at various stages of the game—and I thought this was a relatively cohesive unit already?

As for the midfield, that’s still pretty much reminiscent of energetic puppies chasing the ball. The experiment of the day was that James Younghusband was played as a holding midfielder (did not pay off), while a new addition to the team, Misagh Bahadoran was at the right wing. Bahadoran, to my mind, was a revelation. Great ball-handling skills. The other new guy, Nate Burkey, didn’t do bad either, as he seems to be a hard worker.

(Well, it seems to me that everyone else was a hard worker compared to Phil Younghusband. Phil, if you’re reading this—I love you, man, but you gotta give me reasons once more to wear your shirt proudly.)

There’s a lot of optimism with the Azkals’ upcoming matches on June 29 and July 3 (the latter being reportedly sold out in just a few hours’ time). I just hope that the optimism isn’t misplaced—that the team will really look into what went wrong in this match, as the National Team were simply outplayed by their opponents. (They can start with the first goal of the UFL All-Stars—where the hell were the back four in that sequence? And conceding a goal at the 94th minute—mentally and physically exhausted already?) The team’s set to train in Germany in the coming week. I can only hope that’s not one big waste of a huge carbon footprint.

Other than that, what needs to be highlighted is that this was Yanti Bersales’ last match. At 38, I suppose he did typify what an Azkal ought to be—scrappy, relentless, and untiring. If I heard it correctly, he was with the National Team for nearly two decades—now that’s commitment.

What’s my take-away from all these? I’m still looking for consistency in and from the Philippine National Football Team. And before I get to be branded as a hater, let’s just say that I don’t expect the National Team to apologize to me for their poor performance—but I do expect them to simply not brush off criticism, especially when there are some comments that are actually constructive. I actually want to see this National Team get better, but I don’t think that can be achieved by empty praises that serve to, I don’t know, bloat already huge egos? Call a spade a spade.

Mad props though to the UFL All-Stars. For a team that was assembled, I presume, in a short period of time, they showed more teamwork than the PHL NT.

Man of the Match: that Hartmann brother that scored one beauty of a goal against Neil Etheridge (sorry, I was on the other side of the pitch and couldn’t see clearly—announcer said it was Darren Hartmann, now some news reports are saying it was Mark).
Herd of Goats of the Match (because I can’t choose one): the Azkals’ defense.

P.S. Thank you Ryan Fenix for the free ticket!

P.P.S. One defender had very tight shorts. Maybe the poor defending may be credited to that? Haha.

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