Monday, 10 December 2012

‘Mind your language’ Philippine-style

With English, German, Finnish, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, and, last but certainly not least, native Filipino-speaking players on their squad, the Philippine Azkals are a virtual Tower of Babel. 

Credit the Filipino mothers of several overseas-based players for making them eligible to play for the national team.

But Jerry Lucena and Dennis Cagara call Denmark their home, Paul Mulders and Jason de Jong come from the Netherlands and siblings Angel and Juani Guirado and Carli de Murga from Spain, while team skipper Rob Gier and brothers Phil and James Younghusband have British roots.

Throw in Finnish Ray Jonsson, Germans Patrick Reichelt and Jeffrey Christiaens - ditto coach Michael Weiss - plus goalkeeper Eduard Sacapano and Chieffy Caligdong, who were both born and raised in the Philippines, and you have a cocktail of languages sloshing around at training and on the park.

Team manager Dan Palami admitted that communication problems crop up among his players once in a while. 

“Certainly the problem is there. You have Spanish-speaking players not really understanding what the English-accented players are trying to say,” Palami noted in a recent interview. 

However, he said that since the players have been together on-and-off the pitch for over a year now, they have managed to bridge the language gap and, “I think somehow they have learned to communicate.”

“And whatever language they’re using, it seems I can’t even understand as well,” Palami quipped.

“As far as the players are concerned, they have been able to deal with the communication problem,” he added, proving once again that the universal language of football is something nearly everyone can understand. 

Azkals to play “waiting game” in Singapore

Philippines coach Michael Weiss reckons the compact Jalan Besar Stadium, venue for the return leg of their AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final with Singapore on Wednesday, could suit his team. 

He said that the 8,000 capacity stadium with its artificial pitch “just might work to our advantage” after the 0-0 draw in the home leg on Saturday left the tie wide open.

“We will not risk much, the pitch in Jalan Besar is pretty tight,” he said. “We have to be patient because we expect to see Singapore more active on their (home) turf.”

“A victory or a draw with goals that is what we are working on,” added Weiss, whose team vanquished the Lions 2-0 in a friendly match staged at the Jurong West Stadium on September 7.

Weiss also said that the short recovery period between games would give the Philippines an edge as most of the squad was injury free.

With the Azkals boasting a deep bench, he did not rule out making two to three changes to his starting line-up on Wednesday.

Among those who either have been used sparingly or not at all are defender Jason Sabio, midfielder Chris Greatwich, who scored the late equaliser against the Lions in their group match in Vietnam two years ago, and striker Denis Wolf, who was hindered by an ankle sprain during the Group A campaign in Bangkok.

Also waiting for the opportunity to contribute to the Azkals’ cause is former US Youth team standout, Filipino-American winger Demit Omphroy, who did not see group action because of flu.

Playing an AFF Suzuki Cup match in front of a hometown crowd for the first time, the Azkals seemed to be more jittery than inspired on Saturday and barely managed to escape with the draw following a dominant first half from Singapore.

Still, the 52-year-old Weiss, who became the Philippine coach at the start of 2010, was upbeat about their chances in Singapore.

He attributed his confidence to “a very solid defence. Against this defence it will not be easy for Singapore to score even on home soil.”

Weiss added that the return of Jerry Lucena, who is set to rejoin the team in Singapore on Monday, would steady the midfield and keep the team “calmer in the build-up time.”

He also expected Dennis Cagara, who arrived from Europe on the eve of Saturday’s match, to have fully recovered from jet lag and be the enforcer once again in the back line.

Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic said he was still unsure whether Shi Jiayi, who missed the first leg because of a family emergency, would be available for Wednesday’s match. 

“We shall see, we shall see,” said Avramovic on the status of the key midfielder.

Avramovic will also be keeping a close eye on the medical team’s report on Khairul Amri, who was taken off late in the game with an ankle injury.

Amri ran the show for Singapore and with midfielder Hariss Harun ruled out for the rest of the tournament, Avramovic can ill afford to lose another key figure in attack.

Both camps are acutely aware that the away goals rule is being used for the AFF Suzuki Cup meaning the Philippines would progress to the final in the event of a score draw on Wednesday.

However, another scoreless draw will result in two extra 15-minute periods being played and if there are still no goals, the match will be decided by a penalty shootout.

Misunderstanding led to dismissal: Schafer

Kuala Lumpur – Thailand coach Winfried Schafer has said that the incident that resulted in him being sent to the stands in the closing minutes of his side’s 1-1 draw against Malaysia in the first leg of their AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final on Sunday resulted from a misunderstanding with the officials. 

Schafer was an animated figure on the touchline throughout the match at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium and he had received an earlier warning from Iranian referee Mohsen Torki before he was sent to the stands with nine minutes left after he appeared to protest too vehemently following a foul that had been awarded against his side in a dangerous position just outside their penalty box.

The German will now be banned from the touchline for the return game against the defending champions in Bangkok on Thursday but he explained to the media that he had been criticising one of his own players, Chonlatit Jantakam, and not the referee during the incident that led to his dismissal.

“I think you saw the mistake that Chon (Chonlatit) made when he tried to pass the ball to Mai (Panupong Wongsa). It was a very difficult pass and it gave Malaysia a big chance,” he explained.

“I was trying to tell Chon to concentrate and then the fourth official spoke to the referee, thinking that I was directing the criticism at him.

“But what happened with the referee is not important to me. What was important was that Chon tried to play a very difficult pass to Mai and he lost the ball and it gave Malaysia a big chance to score just after we had made it 1-1. I had to let Chon know how I felt about the bad pass so hopefully, his next pass would be better.

“There was nothing that I said against the referee. Why would I want to criticise the referee? He was a good referee and he had a difficult job with 80,000 people at the stadium making their displeasure known every time he made a decision against Malaysia. It was not easy for him.”

While he was clearly unhappy at his dismissal, Schafer was pleased with the performance of his side as they improved in the match after a poor start with Teerasil Dangda’s fourth goal of the tournament in the 79th minute cancelling out Norshahrul Idlan Talaha’s opener for Malaysia.

“The first half was not good for us. We did not play well and we kept losing the ball in midfield and we had difficulty dealing with the long balls of Malaysia,” said the German.

“After we fell 1-0 behind, we played much better. We were pressing better and to get the score back to 1-1 was fantastic.

“But after that we had the same problems dealing with their 50-metre balls and getting to the second ball but that’s okay because the result was okay for us especially in the atmosphere tonight when we had 80,000 to 90,000 people cheering against us.

“It is difficult to play in front of such a big crowd especially when you go behind 1-0, so I am happy that we played well and that we had so many chances to change the match.

“It will be a difficult situation for me as I will not be on the bench for the game in Bangkok but we have a better chance to win this semi-final now.”

We deserved better: Rajagobal

Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal lauded his players for their performance against Thailand on Sunday and felt that the defending champions deserved better than the 1-1 draw that they managed in the first leg of their AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final. 

Injuries forced Rajagobal to make four changes to his starting line-up from their 2-0 win over Indonesia last Saturday with Bunyamin Umar, Amar Rohidan, Gary Steven Robbat and Baddrol Bakhtiar drafted in to replace Zubir Azmi and the injured trio of Shakir Shaari, Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor and Safee Sali.

However, his makeshift side took the lead through Norshahrul Idlan Talaha early in the second half and had chances to extend their advantage before Teerasil Dangda equalised with 11 minutes left at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.

Despite his disappointment at the final result, especially after late misses by substitute Safee and Norshahrul, Rajagobal was nonetheless pleased with his team’s overall performance against the tournament favourites.

“I think tonight was one of the best matches that the boys played. If you look at the match overall, I think that we deserved to win at least by a score of 3-1,” said the Harimau Malaya boss.

“I could not ask for more because we started out without some of our core players who were injured and I had to come up with some kind of game plan. I think that overall, the boys played a good match and if you look at the shots and chances, we were the more attacking side and we had more penetration on goal.

“I think that we probably surprised Thailand. I don’t think that they expected us to play such a match and I can’t ask for more. We have to be optimistic because we know that we will have a very tough match in Thailand but we have no choice and we have to go there and try to play our very best. It can go either way even though from the start, everybody was saying that Thailand were the favourites.

“It was a really good match and I can’t complain about it either way. If Safee Sali or Norshahrul had scored at the end, we could have got the win but overall, I think that this was the best match that the boys had played.”

Rajagobal explained that his decision to bring on Safee and winger K.Gunanlan with 15 minutes left to replace Baddrol and Robbat was a tactical move as he sought to give his team a bigger advantage to take into Thursday’s second leg at the Supachalasai Stadium in Bangkok.

“As the game was going on and the back four was pushing, I was thinking that it was the right time to do something to put pressure on Thailand and try to get a second goal. That was the reason I brought on Kunanlan and Safee Sali,” said Rajagobal.

That move may not have worked out well with Teerasil equalising shortly afterwards but Rajagobal felt that his players had not let him down.

“I think that tonight was one of Norshahrul’s best games. He was fantastic and I think that he performed better than Teerasil, if you ask me,” opined the Malaysia coach.

“I think that we kept Jakkapan (Pornsai) and Datsakorn (Thonglao) quiet for much of the game and our midfield did well to shut down Phichitpoing (Choeichiu) and Adul (Lahsoh). I think that they played well and also on the flanks, Azamuddin (Akil) was putting pressure on Theerathon (Bunmathan) and we were also giving problems to Piyaphon (Buntao).

“Overall, I am very proud of the boys and we will see what we need to do for the second leg. The game is still open and you never know but the reality is that they are a strong team and now they will be playing at home.

“I have to tell the boys to forget about tonight and just go and enjoy the second leg and try to get a result. You never know, football is funny, but overall, I think that we deserved to win the game tonight but it didn’t happen and I can’t expect more.”

Malaysia 1 Thailand 1

Kuala Lumpur – Teerasil Dangda headed home 11 minutes from time as Thailand battled from a goal down to hold defending champions Malaysia to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final on Sunday.
Forced to play as a lone striker in the absence of the injured Safee Sali, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha broke the deadlock early in the second half at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium when he headed home Mahalli Jasuli’s fine cross from the right.
But Teerasil responded for the visitors when he turned in a cross by Piyaphon Buntao to level things up ahead of the second leg at Bangkok’s Supachalasai Stadium on Thursday.
Thailand coach Winfried Schafer was sent to the stands by the referee late in the match after he became embroiled in a disagreement with the officials but he was pleased with the result as his side hung on despite late chances for substitute Safee and Norshahrul.
“The 1-1 draw is a good result for us as we still have the second leg to come, hopefully in front of a big crowd like this, in Bangkok,” said Schafer, who will have to watch the second leg from the stands.
“But we played well and we had enough chances to change the match even after we fell behind 1-0.”
However, Malaysia coach K.Rajagobal felt that his side were denied a victory that their performance deserved.
“I think tonight was one of the best matches that we have played and if you look at the game overall, I think that we deserved to win.
“We started out without some of our core players and I had to come up with a game plan but the boys did well tonight and I felt that we had more chances and created greater penetration.
“I could not ask more of the players and I have to be optimistic that we can get a result in the return game in Thailand. It can still go either way.”
Injuries forced Rajagobal to make four changes to his starting line-up from their 2-0 win over Indonesia last Saturday with Bunyamin Umar, Amar Rohidan, Gary Steven Robbat and Baddrol Bakhtiar drafted in to replace Zubir Azmi, Shakir Shaari, Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor and Safee.
Having made a number of changes to his starting line-up for Thailand’s final group match against Vietnam in order to avoid injuries or suspensions, Schafer reverted to his first choice line-up with playmaker Datsakorn Thonglao returning from injury to replace Sumanya Purisay.
The pitch had been saturated by heavy rain before the game and both teams struggled to maintain possession in the heavy conditions during the first half.
Malaysia exerted much of the early pressure but it was the Thais who had the first real opportunity in the 11th minute when Adul Lahsoh curled in a shot from 25 metres that Malaysia goalkeeper Farizal Marlias had to palm away for a corner.
The home side should have broken the deadlock in the 20th minute when a deep cross from the left picked out Azamuddin Akil, who had ghosted into the six-yard box unnoticed. But the winger misjudged the bounce of the ball off the heavy turf and was unable to make the crucial contact.
Phichitpoing Choeichiu lined up a shot from distance in the 27th minute that sailed narrowly wide and shortly afterwards, Teerasil’s cutback from the left for Jakkapan Pornsai was just too close to the outstretched arms of Farizal, who safely gathered the ball.
Malaysia skipper Safiq Rahim then tested Kawin Thammasatchanan with a swerving free-kick from the left flank that the Thai goalkeeper alertly stopped at his near post.
The second half began in explosive fashion as Mahalli burst down the right flank and sent in an excellent cross that Norshahrul met at the near post with a glancing header that flew across the diving Kawin into the far corner of the net.
It was the first time that the Thais had fallen behind in the tournament and they struggled to find an immediate response as the Malaysians fiercely contested every ball to the rapturous approval of the home fans.
But the visitors gradually began to exert themselves with skipper Panupong Wongsa heading over from a Datsakorn corner in the 63rd minute and Apipoo Suntornpanavej testing Farizal with a fierce drive from 25 metres four minutes later.
Safee and K.Gunanlan came on for Malaysia with 15 minutes left to replace Baddrol and Robbat but the Thais kept up the pressure and levelled the score with 11 minutes left.
The ball came to Piyaphon on the right flank and the full-back sent in a measured cross that was met by Teerasil whose header flew past Farizal into the top right corner of the net.
The Thais appeared content in the closing minutes to hold on for the draw but they were nearly caught out two minutes from time when they failed to deal with Safiq’s free-kick from the left. Safee ghosted in at the far post to meet the ball with a firm header that Kawin did well to tip over his crossbar for a corner.
Deep into stoppage time, Norshahrul broke clear on goal but Kawin did well to deny the striker a second goal which kept all things square for the second leg in Bangkok.
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