Match Ratings: Philippines vs Bahrain
The Philippines got its World Cup Qualifying campaign off to a flying start with a 2-1 win over fancied Bahrain Thursday night at Philippine Sports Stadium. It was the Azkals’ first victory against a powerhouse side from the Middle East and ranks up as one of the biggest wins in the history of the team.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley fielded a new-look side, putting players in positions where they don’t usually play. In the end, he got a quality team performance, which propelled the Azkals to the early lead in Group H. The win also gave the Azkals a huge morale boost as they travel to Doha, Qatar Friday night for the duel with Yemen on Tuesday.
After a stop-start first half, the match came to life in the first 15 minutes of the second half. That’s where the Azkals did the damage with Misagh Bahadoran firing his first international goal five minutes after the restart. Javier Patino bagged the second goal, following up Bahadoran’s saved effort 10 minutes later. The Azkals pounced on lapses in concentration from the Bahraini defense. Phil Younghusband picked up Stephan Palla’s throw in from just 35 yards out and with no Bahraini player closing him down, issued an inch perfect ball for Bahadoran to fire home at the far post. So teasing and so inviting, the pass couldn’t have been more perfect and Bahadoran showed good timing in producing a quality finish.
Once again, Bahrain was left undone by some poor defending after a stoppage in play.
Manny Ott’s ball caused trouble inside the area and both Bahadoran and Patino were in good positions to score. After Bahadoran’s shot was blocked, Patino, showing the predatory instincts which made him one of the top scorers in Asia at club level the past two years, bundled home inside the six-yard box. Younghusband was involved in the leadup to the free kick as his quick diagonal to Iain Ramsay forced Bahraini defender Omar to make a desperate lunge. It was a two-footed challenge and Omar was lucky to have stayed on the pitch.
The Azkals coasted from there and new recruit Ramsay also grew into the game in the second half, keeping the Bahraini backline on its toes with his speed.
Bahrain tried to compress the play at midfield early on, which left Manny Ott and Younghusband little room to operate. But the movement of the front three as well as the wingbacks gave Bahrain something to think about and the quick switch of plays, as instructed by Dooley, worked to great effect. Except for a few balls in behind the defense, the Azkals had little trouble defensively. Neil Etheridge, given the start by Dooley on his 44th appearance for the Philippines, was quick off his line to snuff out any danger. But he could do little to stop the late goal Abdulwahab Al Malood, after the striker had an otherwise easy time skipping past a couple of challenges. Still, the Azkals did well to see the game out and could have gotten a couple of goals near the end when Ramsay and Bahadoran broke on the counter attack.
Bahrain looked like it was running out of ideas in the final third and coach Sergio Batista was left ruing the lack of time he had in preparing the side for the match. The Argentine has been on the job for just three weeks.
The victory speaks volumes of the quality of the side that the Azkals have now. Four years ago, saying that we could upset Bahrain would have been rubbish. The team could not even beat Bahrain’s Under-23 team. Much of the work was done behind the scenes in the recruitment of new, quality players. Dooley and Azkals management have certainly put together a squad that has the rest of the continent taking notice.
Neil Etheridge 7 – Fantastic work from the returning No. 1. Quick off his line on a couple of occasions in the first half to unsettle advancing Bahrain strikers. Produced a couple of good saves in the second half to preserve the lead, but could do little to stop the late strike from Al Malood.
Lucena 7 – Another quiet yet solid performance from the Fil-Danish veteran. Pushed back to the right side of defense, he coped well. Lost the ball at a dangerous area in the first half, but recovered quickly to snuff out the danger.
Gier 7 – A vintage performance from the 34-year-old centerback who anchored the defense. Ran into trouble with a couple of over the top balls in the first half, but was largely stable throughout the match. Was substituted in the 84th minute after picking up a slight knock.
Sato 7 – Continued his steady play at leftback, he pinged a couple of good balls into the box in the first half.
Palla 6 – Despite arriving only last Monday night, he showed terrific workrate until he was substituted in the 65th minute in his debut. Expecting better performances from the Austrian League veteran as he plays more games for the Azkals.
Ott 7 – Stayed composed and kept it simple at midfield. Won the ball beautifully several times in the middle of the park. Effectively gave Phil Younghusband the platform to thrive in his new role.
Younghusband 8 (MOTM) – Considering the fact that he was playing at midfield for the first time in his Azkals career, Younghusband sparkled against a quality side. Showed wonderful technical ability and vision, he was not afraid to mix it up and win the ball at midfield. Although he had a couple of wayward long passes, he constantly switched play beautifully. Came up with the teasing ball that was finished off by Bahadoran for the opener.
Steuble 6 – Provided good cover at right wingback and was able to get forward early in the first half only to fire wide with his wicked left foot. Recovered well after a ball over the top caught him out of position.
Schrock 5 – Was only good for a 23-minute stint after picking up a knee injury 10 minutes into the match. Notwithstanding the injury, he showed grit by disrupting play and winning the ball at midfield before he made way for Bahadoran.
Ramsay 7 – Slow start for the debuting Fil-Australian, but became a lethal outlet on the counter when the game opened up in the second half. Armed with pace, showed a willingness to get on the end of every ball, including one diagonal from Younghusband that led to the free kick that the Azkals converted for the second goal.
Patino 7 – Just what the doctor ordered for the Azkals, a deadly finisher inside the box. Beat the offside trap only to send his shot to the Bahrain keeper in the 13th minute, but later atoned for that miss with an instinctive strike for the second goal. Was always a constant threat with his pace and movement.
Bahadoran 7 – Came in for the injured Schrock and deservedly scored his first international goal after directing a fine ball from Younghusband inside the area. Missed a free header off a fine delivery from Ramsay that could have killed off the game.
Guirado 5 – Came in for Palla in the 65th minute and did well to help see the game out, although he offered a token challenge to win the ball and was ultimately beaten by Malood on the way to Bahrain’s late goal. CFC
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