Desert apologetics, momentum, and perhaps, a miracle

It’s not regular fare that I manage to stay awake into the wee hours of the morning to catch the Philippine National Football Team in action (but that I would for Spain, Real Madrid, and, in the few times that it applies, Liverpool). Somewhere between incessant tweeting of match updates and berating that needs to be let out, there will always be a part of me that would want the underdogs to achieve a bit of glory.

That said, I will be the first to admit I wasn’t expecting a win versus Kuwait. Of course, that would be the best case scenario. A draw was a reasonable expectation. Should we lose, we can’t let ourselves be down by more than one goal. In that way, it wouldn’t be too punishing of a mountain to climb on the return leg in Manila.

From the get-go, Kuwait looked like they were out to kill, but give credit to the Philippines for being solid on defense in the first half. Notice how Kuwait turned to their wingers to attack, with focus on the right wing in the first half. Our defense has been solid, with the midfielders tracking back to help out. The team came in the game with the mindset of not conceding goals, hence a highly defensive 4-5-1 set-up.

With the team’s focus on the defensive end, our counter-attacking leaves much to be desired. Case in point, Phil Younghusband beaten on a one-on-one play against Kuwait’s goalkeeper, who had committed forward (this reminded me of Torres’ Euro 2008 goal—if Phil was a half-second quicker, he could have easily lobbed the ball into the Kuwaiti goal, in a flying swan fashion, no less). If I remember correctly, there were two other Kuwaitis closing in on Phil from behind—now this is why it can get rather frustrating when he’s the sole striker up front.

Following that, we had several other chances of scoring, thanks to headers by Angel Guirado Aldeguer (hit the crossbar) and Chieffy Caligdong (cleared by another defender on the right post), as well as a volley from Phil Younghusband (slight touch by the goalkeeper, before it also hit the crossbar).

As the first half ended, I thought that our defense did a pretty good job as to what it had to do, except for that one defensive error that led to Kuwait’s first goal. We had our chances to score and missed, but what was important was that we had those precious chances—an indication that Kuwait may not necessarily have gotten us figured out to a T. If we could only ride on that momentum, we had a pretty good chance of scoring.

But alas, I was dead wrong.

Whatever good we had done in the first half was not there in the second. Perhaps it was the heat and fatigue getting to our players, especially with the wingers getting their work cut out for them. The painful realization hits when Angel Guirado Aldeguer was temporarily wheeled off from the pitch after suffering a knock (santa madre mía de dios, how many pieces will this guy be at the end of the match?), and we seemed to have lost that momentum. Moments later, Kuwait scored their second goal from a mad scramble right in front of the goal (how the hell that got in escapes me). As for Kuwait’s third goal, that was one beauty of a goal—one key moment where we did not properly close out.

Just a few observations:

Someone should really get Phil Younghusband into a professional football club. He needs the added playing time to condition himself. It seems like the only time he maximizes himself is during a match, hence the high risk of injury. Also, Phil, for the love of all things fluffy, pass the damn ball. I do like his hot pink boots, however. They’re so gay, I love them.

Ray Jonsson was stellar at left back. Note how Kuwait looked to attack on the right wing in the first half. They made the adjustments in the second half and attacked on the left wing more, which leaves me to point out…

That prior to the match, we are told that Rob Gier would partner with Anton del Rosario at the back. But lo and behold, surprise, surprise, it’s del Rosario at the right back and Jason Sabio at center back. Guess who exploited that? Sabio, I know you’re a smart cookie, but please do consider prioritizing law school.

Angel Guirado Aldeguer is one hard man. Chieffy Caligdong and James Younghusband sure had their work cut out for them running the flanks.

What I find a bit disturbing, and I know I’m not the only one (if only my Twitter timeline could be heard, it was exploding and imploring for substitution calls), is that there were no substitutions made earlier on in the second half, even when it was apparent that the team was tired and making mistakes. Simon Greatwich and Misagh Bahadoran were put in the game at the start of injury time already, and Greatwich’s contribution was another unnecessary yellow card. Sure, we had a solid game plan for the first 45 minutes, but what happened when the opponent made the adjustments and got us heavily punished for it?

Still, let’s not take away credit to the fact that the Philippines showed that it can play with one of the toughest, biggest powerhouses in Asia, even for 45 minutes. Sure, we’re in a hole that’s about three goals deep, but hey, the Scouser in me will tell you to remember the Miracle in Istanbul.

There’s justification in reasonably believing in miracles in a football. You can have that, because you finally have a national team that can make you believe. It’s a huge deficit to overcome, but those who truly understand would recognize valiant effort when it’s displayed. Brazil is a long way to go, but this really is the start of our dreams on the world stage. Let’s just not lose momentum.

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