Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Azkals gun for Suzuki Cup final in second semis leg against Singapore

Karl Decena, InterAKTV

The Philippine national men’s football team guns for a seat in the final of the 2012 ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup when it clashes with Singapore in the second leg of their semifinal battle Wednesday at the Jalan Besar Stadium in the city-state. The Azkals, who forced a scoreless draw against the Lions last Saturday at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in the first leg, only need at least a 1-1 draw, if not a victory, to book a ticket to the tournament final for the first time in history. “Everybody’s excited and everybody must deliver now,” Azkals coach Hans Michael Weiss said. “I think we have good chances.” The Azkals will see the return of Fil-Danish midfielder Jerry Lucena, who missed the squad’s last two matches in the tournament due to club commitments. They will also rely on the attacking prowess of brothers Phil and James Younghusband, Patrick Reichelt, Angel Guirado, among others, to provide the much-needed offensive firepower to help them advance to the final. But the Lions, who failed to enjoy the advantage of away goals which, in case of a tied aggregate score, will determine the winner of the series, believe that they can still pull off a victory over the Azkals. “At the end, in football, you cannot guarantee everything,” Lions coach Radojko Avramovic said. “I just hope we have quality and experience to go to the final.” Singapore will once again lean on the attacking duo of team captain Shahril Ishak and the 42-year-old Aleksandar Duric, who both gave headaches to the Azkals defense last Saturday after creating several chances at the goal. The 8,000-capacity Jalan Besar Stadium is expected to be jampacked by both Azkals and Lions fans, as tickets for the match have been sold out just moments after their release. AKTV’s live coverage of the second semifinal leg between the Azkals and Lions will start on 7:30 p.m.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Singapore to defend for their lives

By Paul Masefield, ESPN Star Sports (philstar.com)

SINGAPORE — The first semi-final of this year’s edition of the Suzuki Cup has thrown up a surprise. I have to be honest and say that I didn't think Singapore would top group B and as for the Philippines, to finish runners-up in group A ahead of Vietnam was somewhat of a surprise to me as well. It means that the first leg of this encounter will be held in Manila. And if you look back over this year and the friendly games played between the two teams, it is a slight advantage to the Azkals. Just a couple of days before this tournament started, the Azkals beat Singapore 1-0 in Cebu. When a tournament of this magnitude gets to the semi-finals stage, home advantage is everything. This was epitomized when Malaysia took on and defeated Indonesia in front of a packed crowd at the Bukit Jalil Stadium. The Rizal Memorial Stadium can only hold about 13,000, but I can tell you the stadium will be packed out and the fans will be behind their team. It's a very close game to call, as for me the Philippines have so far managed to get the job done. It was the gritty 1-0 victory over Vietnam in their second game that set them up to progress to the semi finals. They then looked very comfortable against Myanmar in the final group game and emerged 2 – 0 winners. Their only loss to Thailand was an under par performance but they have grown and got better as the tournament goes. Their back line is a pretty solid one. They have experience and managed to stop threats that occur throughout the game. Ray Jonsson, Dennis Cagara, Rob Gier and Juan Guirado have proved themselves to be stubborn at the back and can still offer things going forwards. For me the key element to the success of Michael Weiss’ side was the introduction of Jason De Jong in the second game. This tightened them up defensively and also allowed the more attacking players to be even more creative. Patrick Reichelt has looked promising but out of the most attack-minded players, Angel Guirado has made the biggest impact. He looks comfortable on the ball and works hard for the team. He started the first game but has been used to great effect as a substitute in the last two matches and will be the one to pose a real threat to Singapore. With Phil Younghusband finally opening his scoring account in the tournament, confidence will be high and having already beaten Singapore in that friendly, Philippines will feel that they can do it again. Singapore though will be no walkover. After the opening victory against Malaysia, it went slightly wrong for Raddy Avramovic and his troops against Indonesia. They managed to restore the balance against Laos, but I do have to say it was very nervy, and after getting the starting line up completely wrong in the final group game, he made two changes before half time that turned the match in favor of the Lions. The hero in the Singapore team is undoubtedly Sharil Ishak who is currently the leading goal scorer of the competition. He has just become a member of the prestigious 100-cap club and it was a true inspirational performance against Laos. He single handedly turned the game around and once again scored two goals in a game. With Kharil Amri providing a real threat as well, Singapore will need to have that fighting spirit to overcome the Azkals. The introduction after injury of Shaiful Esah showed that his left foot could help Singapore go all the way to the final. His quality of delivery from wide positions is what helped Singapore piled the goals in the second half against Laos. But while they have threats going forwards, the Lions are usually quite stable at the back. However, they weren’t in the final group game. They will need whoever is going to start for them in defense to really step up and defend for their lives. The two teams have options especially going forwards, which is why this first game is very hard to call. I do expect Singapore to regroup themselves at the back and make themselves difficult to beat. The Philippines will want to push especially as it’s the first leg and this could leave them slightly open at the back and allow Singapore to score on the counter attack. For me, this game is too tight to call which is why I think we will have a cagey, tense affair that will end up in a 1 – 1 draw, with all to play for in the second leg. Former professional footballer Paul Masefield has previously played in England and Asia and is ESPN STAR Sports’ football pundit and commentator. Catch him on the LIVE coverage of the AFF Suzuki Cup when the Philippines takes on Singapore on Saturday 8 Dec on STAR Sports at 7.30pm HKT.

Azkals out to protect turf vs Singaporeans tonight

By Cedelf P. Tupas (INQ)

THE ROAD back to the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals was a long and tough one for the Philippines. The Azkals earned a home match for reaching the Final Four again, one that means so much, having been deprived to host in 2010 because of the lack of a suitable venue. Determined to rewrite history, the Azkals hope to make the most out of their advantage when they battle three-time champion Singapore in the first leg today of their home-and-away duel at Rizal Memorial Stadium. The second leg is slated Dec. 12 at Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore, but the Azkals would love nothing more than an edge that will put the Lions under pressure. The semifinals will be decided on aggregate scores, with the away goals rule used to break the tie. “We look at this as a 180-minute match,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “But we also want to take advantage early.” Having won the last two meetings with Singapore, both friendly matches, the Azkals are brimming with confidence against the proud and defiant Lions, whose fiery coach Radojko Avramovic reminded the tournament upstart what they are up against. “I think the Philippines should respect us more because we are three-time champions,” said Avramovic yesterday at the prematch press conference. “We can make them wait two more years to dream of the finals again.” Coach Michael Weiss fanned the flames of brewing rivalry, saying the Azkals are not just going to give away that opportunity for playing the title easily. “Why would I respect an opponent only because he has titles in the past? For what?” an apparently piqued Weiss said when sought for comment on Avramovic’s statement. While Singapore has been a familiar figure in the biggest stage of the tournament, the Philippines continues to fight for recognition. And it’s this thought that has motivated the Azkals even more. “We will not be complacent,” Palami vowed. “We intend to write our own history. We want to continue making an impact in this tournament.” Led by captain Shahril Bin Ishak, Singapore will come into the game as the highest-scoring team in the tournament with its attack that has yielded seven goals in three games. The Lions also have veteran Aleksandar Duric, who has scored twice against the Azkals in their last four meetings.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Azkals likely to miss 3 key aces in semis opener

EVEN before returning to Manila shortly after the Philippine Azkals’ successful stint in the AFF Group A tournament in Thailand, German coach Michael Weiss was seen fretting about the availability of three overseas-based players: defenders Dennis Cagara and Jerry Lucena and striker Angel Guirado. Cagara, Guirado and Lucena had to return to their respective clubs after playing pivotal roles in the tourney where the Azkals finished second in the group behind host Thailand and advanced to their second straight semifinals against Group A topnotcher Singapore. The two sides open the home-and-away semifinal series this Saturday at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. Lucena, brilliant as a midfield maestro in the National’s pivotal 1-0 win over Vietnam, had to return to action for the the Danish Superliga club Esbjerg and was non-committal about his availability for the semis. Bouncing back from forgettable performances in the 1-2 loss to the War Elephants, Cagara and Guirado were vital cogs in the team’s back-to-back triumphs over Vietnam and Myanmar (2-0), but also had to return to German Third Division club SC Karlsruher and Indian club Salgaocar, respectively. Cagara stood as the defensive demon of a sturdy Azkal backline that closed down Vietnamese striker Le Coc Vinh and Burmese scoring midfielder Kyi Lin. The hardworking Guirado set up Chieffy Caligdong’s winning marker against Vietnam and scored in the victory over Myanmar. Guirado and striker Phil Younghusband, who scored the first goal against Myanmar, have emerged as the team’s one-two scoring punch up front. “We need to have Lucena, Cagara and Guirado back with us because they will play important roles in our match against Singapore,” Weiss said. “They were vital in our success in Thailand.” National team liaison officer Ace Bright yesterday said he talking to Guirado and Cagara last night to find out if they would be available for the semifinals against the Lions. “I will know by tonight (Monday) if they can play on Saturday,” Bright said. With defender Ray Jonsson sidelined with a torn right quadricep muscle, having Cagara back takes on an even greater importance in the face of the devastating offense of Singapore, which is keen on snapping a three-game losing streak to the Philippines and continue its own quest of entering the finals. The good news is that Fil-Spanish defender Juani Guirado and Fil-Dutch midfielder Paul Mulders returned with the squad last Saturday and will be available for Saturday’s game. “Because of his slow recovery from jet lag, Mulder decided to return to Manila with us while Juani has been with us even before we left for Thailand,” Palami said.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Azkals to face Singapore in semis; tickets already on sale

By Alder Almo (philstar.com) MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals arrived last night with a little fanfare as their mission has not yet been accomplished. Standing on their way to a first ever Finals appearance in the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup is a very familiar foe – the Singapore Lions. The Lions came out from a deep 0-2 hole against luckless Laos in their match yesterday to win a gutsy come-from-behind 4-3 victory that enabled them to top Group B on goal difference against defending champions Malaysia. The huge win earned them a chance to get back at the Azkals, who twice defeated them in friendlies leading to the tournament. The Azkals are hoping that their streak of luck against the Lions continue as they prepare to host them on Saturday 8pm at the historic Rizal Memorial Football Stadium for the first ever Suzuki Cup home match in the country to be aired live by Sports 5's AKTV on IBC. The Azkals won in Singapore 2-0 last September before repeating with a 1-nil win in Cebu last Nov. 15.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

All Hail Chieffy: Azkals beat Vietnam anew, 1-0

By Alder Almo (philstar.com) MANILA, Philippines - Just when the semis door is about to shut down, the Azkals turned to a fallen hero to repeat the "Hanoi Miracle". Chieffy Caligdong bounced back from a sub-par performance in a 2-1 loss to Thailand to score the lone goal in a 1-0 win Tuesday night at the Ramajangala Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand that put the Philippine Azkals' one foot in the semis of the AFF Suzuki Cup. With five minutes left in the regulation, Caligdong received a well-placed lob pass in the left flank from Angel Guirado on top of the box and used his left foot to slot in the goal that roared all the way to the Philippines. "Sabi ko sa sarili ko, darating din yung chance na makakabawi ako sa laro ko sa Thailand," Caligdong said in a phone interview with AKTV's Jason Webb and guests La Salle coach Hans Smit and former Azkal Armand del Rosario right after the match. Caligdong, who started against Thailand, came in as the final substitute of the Azkals replacing James Younghusband in the 75th minute which proved to be the turning point of the erstwhile scoreless match. The 30-year old team skipper immediately made his presence felt but failed to connect in an earlier pass by Guirado. The duo linked up again, this time, with Guirado missing a chance to score as his header went straight to Vietnam's keeper Hong Son Duong. It was not until 10 minutes after he came in that Caligdong would get another chance to drill in the country's biggest goal in the tournament so far. "Sobrang saya ko. Ibinigay ko 101%. Masaya kami lahat dito sa dugout but we can't celebrate. May laban pa kami. We have a big chance now to enter the semis," Caligdong added. The Azkals now need to follow up this victory with another one against Myanmar on Friday to officially book a semifinals seat. Thailand clinched the first semifinals slot in their group with a 4-0 demolition of Myanmar in the nightcap for their second win in a row. It was the second consecutive win for the Azkals over Vietnam, their only wins in their eight head-to-head meetings. The ASEAN's top ranked Vietnam (138th) also lost 2-0 to the 143rd-ranked Azkals in the group stages of the same tournament two years ago that signaled the rise of the "Azkal-mania". The Azkals went on to their first semifinals appearance in the region's top flight competition and now has a great chance to repeat or even surpass that feat. Caligdong was not the only hero, who stepped up in this match, for the Azkals. There was Ed Sacapano who was also spectacular submitting a clean sheet after allowing two goals against Thailand in their opening game. Juani Guirado anchored the rock-solid Back Four alongside Rob Gier, Dennis Cagara and Ray Jonsson, who all worked doubly hard especially in the second half when the Red Warriors seemed to have taken control and collared the lion's share of possessions. And there were the coaching staff led by assistant coaches Edwin Cabalida and Edzel Bracamonte, who steadied the Azkals with timely substitutions, in lieu of suspended coach Michael Weiss. Not until Guirado and Caligdong came in that momentum shifted back to the Azkals' favor on the night the country's top striker Phil Younghusband struggled on offense. The Azkals was more compact and played better than the Thailand match early in the first half with Phil Younghusband getting a lot of scoring chances, none bigger than the one he had in the 11th minute. The younger Younghusband, however, muffed the chance to put the Azkals on board as he slipped in the last minute causing him to lose control of the ball. With the Azkals up by 1 in the latter part of the match, Vietnam, who came here looking for the sweet revenge that never came, almost pulled a draw had Le Tan Tai's attempt did not hit the cross bar after Sacapano's deflection. The Azkals' defense held up in the closing minutes when the Vietnamese desperately looked for the equalizer. The Azkals-Myanmar match will be telecast live 9pm on Friday over at AKTV on IBC right after the PBA double-header.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Breakthrough for Mulders

By Cedelf P. Tupas (Philippine Daily Inquirer)
BANGKOK—The agonizing wait for a first international goal ended Saturday night for Paul Mulders at the AFF Suzuki Cup here. But the Fil-Dutch midfielder left the Rajamangala Stadium pitch in a somber mood after the Azkals fell in a 1-2 loss to host Thailand in a bruising encounter at the start of the prestigious tournament. “It would have been better if we got something out of the game,” Mulders said after breakfast at Golden Tulip Hotel here. Mulders had been longing for time on the pitch ever since he linked up with the Azkals here after struggling to get minutes with his Dutch first division club ADO Den Haag this season. Being with the Azkals has become a sanctuary of sorts even though he had misgivings with the position he was tasked to fill when he joined the side. Mulders was deployed as leftback, filling in for the absent Ray Jonsson in the World Cup Qualifying against Sri Lanka last year. Eventually, Azkals coach Michael Weiss assigned the 30-year-old to his preferred position as an attacking midfielder, which augured well in the campaign in the AFC Challenge Cup where he assisted on one of Phil Younghusband’s four goals. It was in the AFC Challenge Cup where Mulders tantalizingly came close to scoring three times. He was up to the task Saturday night. Getting a cutback from the excellent Patrick Reichelt, who came in as a substitute in the 60th minute, Mulders beat Thai goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchan with a left-footed strike from 10 yards with 13 minutes left to play. “It (the goal) is going to help my confidence a lot,” he said. “I still think we can do better in the next two games.”