Tweaked game plan works like magic for Azkals
MALE, Maldives—Caught in a do-or-die scenario and facing a team that they have played twice over the last few years, the Philippine Azkals tweaked their game plan.
With players going the extra mile against a tough and physical opponent, the Azkals stunned two-time finalist Turkmenistan, 2-0, Saturday night to reach the semifinals for the second straight time in the AFC Challenge Cup at National Stadium here.
The result put the Azkals within two wins of the title and their dream of claiming a spot in the AFC Asian Cup in Australia next year.
It was also sweet revenge for the Azkals, who booted out the same team that sent them packing in the semifinals of the tournament two years ago.
Roland Muller sparkled with his exploits on goal and Phil Younghusband and Patrick Reichelt delivered the goals, but it was the stroke of tactical genius from the coaching staff led by Thomas Dooley that was credited for the win that boosted the Azkals to the top of Group B and set themselves up for a collision with host Maldives Tuesday night.
“We changed our formation and it worked,” said Younghusband, who opened the scoring in the 48th minute with a curling free kick. “They didn’t really figure out how to play against us.”
From a 4-3-3 formation that put emphasis on play on the flanks, the Azkals opted for a 4-4-2 set-up, clogging up the midfield as Paul Mulders and Jason de Jong shut down the Turkmen’s playmakers while also initiating the attack from the back.
The Azkals also proved dangerous on the counterattack with the pace of Stephan Schrock and Reichelt causing all sorts of problems for the enemy.
Dooley did not start Younghusband, putting Mulders in his place, while Martin Steuble, a central midfielder, was placed on the left wing, giving the Azkals steel and drive in that area of the pitch.
“We analyzed our opponent,” said Azkals assistant coach Bruno Baltazar. “The players must be aware of the tactical changes. They did amazingly well. Tactically, we weren’t perfect but we were close to that.”
Azkals manager Dan Palami believes the team is peaking at the right moment, after struggling in the scoreless draw against Afghanistan and playing listlessly in the 2-0 win over Laos.
“It shows that the team can cope with the pressure and as each game comes, we are actually improving,” said Palami. “I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
The injured list, however, is growing with Ruben Doctora also expected to join Juani Guirado and Neil Etheridge on the sidelines due to a knee injury.
“Other than (the injuries), the team morale is high, we have good support and the players are eager to get the win.”
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