Mar 11, 2011

Philippine Azkals vs Mongolia Blue wolves: Leg 2 Match Preview

5 days to go and the Philippine Azkals will once again clash against Mongolia in its bid to qualify for the 2011 AFC Challenge cup. Let me breakdown to you my personal preview of the coming match-up.

The confident Azkals, beat the Blue wolves last February 9 at the Pana-ad Stadium to a tune of 2-0, much to the delight of the 20,000 adoring fans, who flooded the stadium to support the rise of football in the Philippines. Chieffy Caligdong drove a blinding nutmeg at the 43rd minute of the first half, while Phil Younghusband netted an in-swinger at injury time to seal the 2-nil win for the Azkals, as the Mongolians were stunned in frustration as the Philippines celebrated the night over.

It was a rough game, and very physical as the Azkals controlled the tempo right from the start. It was evident that the Blue Wolves wanted to force a draw, as they implored a defensive wall on their side to prevent a horde of goals from the Azkals. It would have been an easy 4-0, if not for the handball on the 2nd half and the missed header by Araneta. A red card was given to Midfielder Pagamsuren Altantulga due to 2 successive Yellow cards in the first half, where the Mongolians were left to play with 10 players in the field thereon. 2 more yellow cards were issued in the game, 1 for Tugsbayar and 1 for Phil Younghuband, both in the second half, showing how rough the game was. Several Mongolian players left on a stretcher, as both teams tried to push the ball to opposite directions.

Who let the Dogs out
The Azkals are carrying a wave of momentum right now, from the Suzuki cup semifinal finish and the 2-0 win in Pana-ad. A 2-0 cushion is not actually a safe lead; Mongolia needs to finish 3-0 to win and advance or a 2-0 to tie, which means a shootout would commence. The Azkals cannot afford to be over confident in facing these big blue wolves, especially in Mongolia. Here are some of the vital points that the Azkals and the fans should look out for in the 15th of March :

1) Cold mountain 
Mongolia, which is ranked by FIFA at 183, will now be playing on home ground as part of the home-and-away format. The last time they hosted a home game was April of 2009, for the 2010 AFC challenge cup qualifiers, where they beat Macau 3-1, although they did not qualify with Macau winning via an away goal at 3-3 on aggregate. Since 2008, Mongolia has scored a total of 11 goals, where they won 3 out of 7 games.

The blue wolves carry an advantage playing at home, mostly due to its weather conditions and the artificial pitch. The Azkals will be playing in sub zero conditions which can result to hypothermia and frostbites (read more here. The artificial pitch will also pose a problem as the Azkals are used to playing in natural grass.  

As a response, Team Manager Dan Palami, moved the Azkal training to Japan, where the weather conditions mimic that of Mongolia. They will also be playing on artificial pitch to help them get used to the playing field. 
2) Wolves can bite too 
Mongolia's back is against the wall right now, and there's no tomorrow anymore for them,if they lose next week. Unlike their defensive stance last leg, the blue wolves are stuck in a corner so expect them to get aggressive come March 15.

Mongolia will be without Midfielder Pagamsuren Altantulga #9 who got a red card from the first leg, but they will be playing with 11 men on the pitch. The Azkals should watch out for Mongolia's captain #3 and #12 as they are the teams' top scorers & most experienced. Mongolia's Goal keeper will give the Azkals a hard time, as what we have seen the first leg. The rest of the team are mostly young players (avg of 24), but mind you, Mongolia has an existing National League, that we do not have, so most of their players are playing on a regular basis.

For Mongolia to bounce back they have to be aggressive and attack early on, as they will assume the Azkals have a hard time adjusting to the climate, just as they did in the Philippines. Expect Phil Younghusband and Caligdong to be hounded by defenders every time they get the ball. Coach Sandagdorj Erdenebat said in a statement after the first leg that they are confident they could pull out an upset in Ulan Bator.       

3) Distractions 
The Azkals have been a big hype since their win against Mongolia, and the one thing we do not want these Azkals to have is "overconfidence". Their tune up games with Japan college teams will let them be hungry for more as most teams in japan are above average, a recent 4-0 loss will let them learn and be more focused to win in bigger games.

4) "Niel No More" 
One big factor is the absence of GK Neil Etheridge, he played a valuable role in the Suzuki cup as he showed high level of goal keeping never seen in Philippine football history. The 2-0 win against Vietnam, the 1-1 against Singapore, 0-0 against Myanmar, shows how he efficiently protected the posts. Recently he said that he may not be available until the group stages of the Challenge cup. Such a big loss.

As a substitute, the Azkals have Eduard Sacapano as a replacement, let me note that Sacapano's latest trip as a starter was last 2006_AFC_Challenge_Cup where he gave up 3 goals in 3 games. No offense to Eduard, but we need another high caliber GK if we want to keep up with the tournaments that will follow, as Camcam is still too young and inexperienced.

5) Missing in Action 
Another problem is the absence of several key players namely: Chris Greatwich & Rob Gier, both played vital roles in the Suzuki cup semi final finish. We have substitutes, but will they step up?

I am not Nostradamus, but i think coach Weiss will come up with this line up: (updated as of Monday. If De jong won't be there)


Del Rosario                 Sabio                                       Jonsson           Borromeo 

J. Younghusband         S. Greatwich                              Gener            C. Caligdong

                                 I. Araneta              P. Younghusband

They will start attacking to get an early goal. An early goal will give them an "away goal" advantage so they can take it easy in the second half and prevent unwanted injuries. They should also move the offense out of Phil and maybe use him as a decoy, and let the others attack, like Araneta and Greatwich.

If the Azkals will just keep their heads in the game, they will make it to the group stages. Mongolia is a good team, but they are too young and inexperienced to capitalize in a 0-2 hole. But who knows, "bilog ang bola", in football anything can happen.

My personal prediction
(Azkals) 3-1 (Mongolia) Azkals win on Aggregate.


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