Match Ratings: Philippines vs Uzbekistan
The Philippines suffered its first loss in World Cup Qualifying, following a 1-5 shellacking to powerhouse Uzbekistan Tuesday night at Philippine Sports Stadium.
The Azkals were given little chance to get a result against the Uzbeks, who are 49 places ahead of the Philippines in the rankings at No. 76.
But the hosts came into the game on the back of impressive wins over Bahrain (2-1) and Yemen (2-0) to start their Group H campaign, raising hopes of a reversal against the highest ranked team they have faced in the country’s history.
The expectation was turned up a notch, considering Uzbekistan’s form heading into the match. The Uzbeks lost to North Korea, 2-4, and managed a 1-0 win over Yemen at home in their first two games of qualifying.
The Azkals welcomed the occasion of finally facing an elite side in the continent in front of their own fans.
It was their biggest test yet but they were given a reality check. The Uzbeks finally rediscovered their fiery form and the Azkals bore the brunt of their attacking prowess.
For a team that has already made so much progress the past five years, putting the sport back to the country’s consciousness and gaining a measure of respect from other teams in the continent, the result was harsh on the Azkals.
Never lacking in belief, the Azkals refused to stray from the style they wanted to play, but a combination of individual errors, inexperience and the Uzbeks’ superiority in size, pace, technical ability and clinical finishing left them undone.
“They (Uzbeks) are just a little bit better when you give them a chance, they are going to score,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley. “That’s the reason why they are at No. 76 and we are at No. 125 in the rankings.”
The five goals were the most conceded by the Azkals in a tournament since 2009 when they lost 0-5 to Turkmenistan in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying stage in the Maldives.
Adapting well to the system Dooley has been implementing, the Azkals bossed possession in their first two games, but Bahrain and Yemen aren’t at Uzbekistan’s level, especially when the Central Asians come out with their A-game.
With a little help from the wet conditions, the Uzbeks took the lead through Odil Akmehdov’s strike that rolled between Neil Etheridge’s legs 40 seconds in. The early goal threw off the Azkals gameplan, forcing them to chase the game and open up.
Knowing they could be devastating with time on the ball, the Uzbeks hassled and harried Phil Younghusband and Manny Ott. Younghusband was forced into a deeper role, limiting his effectivity on attack while protecting the backline. Ott couldn’t get on the ball as often as he would like to set the tone of the attack.
There was a bit of confusion on who would cover the Uzbek defenders when they bring the ball up to the Azkals half. Two of the goals were assisted by defenders playing on the left side as they were able to make decent deliveries inside the box with little pressure.
The Azkals were far from perfect in the first two games. For one, they looked vulnerable with over-the-top balls. Rob Gier did a fine job marshalling the backline in the Bahrain game, doing his best to cope with the pace of the attack. Luke Woodland took Gier’s position in the Yemen match and while he excelled with his distribution, the teenager seemed to struggle reading long balls.
Against Uzbekistan, the same problems cropped up. Twice Sergeev had drifted in behind Woodland who was unable to get a defensive header in. Daisuke Sato prevented one attack, but the Azkals were eventually punished by Igor Sergeev, who fired a terrific one-touch volley past Etheridge after a moment of indecision from Woodland. To be fair, it was a quality goal from Sergeev that left Etheridge with no chance.
The bright spot in the match was Sato’s performance. Barely recovered from an injured hand, Sato proved solid and composed at the back, undaunted by the strength of the opposition. The Azkals were also boosted by the entry of Schrock in the second half. Gier said it was a match perfect for Schrock to make an impact, but the three-goal deficit at halftime proved too difficult to overcome even with the midfield dynamo bringing the attack to life.
The loss is not fatal, but the heavy defeat could prove telling when the race for spots in the third round comes down to goal difference. Considering that the higher-ranked teams in other groups are winning via huge scorelines, the Azkals might rue the goals they shipped. Dooley could have set up shop, and put men behind the ball to contain the damage. But the German-American coach has faith in his team to play the way football should be played, notwithstanding the results.
“I want to play. I want you to ask for the ball, play with each other and play football. I want you to enjoy the game,” said Dooley. “We will make a mistake and we learn. We have to play with confidence. This is something that we learn and grow from.”
Neil Etheridge 5.5 – Tough night for the Azkals No. 1. Culpable in conceding the first goal, allowing the ball to skim between his legs, although one can argue that the Azkals could have defended Akhmedov better knowing the Uzbeks’ ability to shoot from range. The visitors scouted his role in the Azkals’ buildup and took away some of his ability to distribute from his position.
Luke Woodland 5.5 – A natural defensive midfielder, the teenager should get better as he continues to play at the center of defense. Before he was beaten by Sergeev on the way to a third Uzbeks goal, Woodland already struggled to cope with a couple of over the top balls, needing timely tackles from Sato. Replaced by Aguinaldo at halftime.
Jerry Lucena 6 – Stayed composed when the Uzbeks pressed the backline early on, but lost Sergeev for a free header on the corner kick for Uzbekistan’s fourth goal in the second half.
Martin Steuble 6 – Mixed performance from the Ceres man who showed the willingness to get forward and send in a few dangerous balls inside the box. He had good moments on the overlap but lacked consistency.
Daisuke Sato 7 – A bright spot for the Azkals. Broke up the Uzbek attack on the final third each time he had the chance. Showed good strength and timing on the tackle and made smart passes out of the back. It was no surprise that the best sequences of the Azkals attack started from his side.
Stephan Palla 6 – His touches weren’t the best on the night, but he linked up well with fellow midfielders in developing the attack. Almost picked out Patino inside the six-yard box in the second half. Couldn’t catch Rashidov when he cut inside and unleashed a rocket past Etheridge for the second goal.
Phil Younghusband 6 – Singled out by the Uzbek coach as a threat despite playing a deeper midfield role. Lost the ball a couple of times early on in the Azkals half as Uzbeks closed him down, but did well to adapt as the game wore on.
Manny Ott 5.5 – Forced to do more defensive work early on as the Uzbeks piled up the pressure. Put in a couple of tackles to win the ball at midfield and switched play well to Steuble in the first half. Substituted by Ingreso on the hour mark.
Misagh Bahadoran 6 – Well-scouted by the Uzbeks, Bahadoran couldn’t make the same impact as he did against Yemen. Got in behind the Uzbek defense a couple of times in the Azkals’ best spell in the first half, earning a free kick on the right. Made a key pass to Palla for a dangerous low cross, but was guilty of missing a good chance in the second half when he skied an effort from 12 yards with the goal at his mercy.
Javier Patino 6 – Ranged against two towering, phsyical defenders, Patino did all that he could to get a glimpse of goal. Glanced a header wide from a Steuble cross in the first half, but couldn’t get on the end of a teasing cross from Palla in the second half.
Iain Ramsay 5.5 – Did well to send in a couple of good crosses inside the box for Patino, but didn’t see much of the ball to use his pace and trickery to make an impact. Made way for Schrock at halftime.
Kevin Ingreso 5.5 – Came in for Ott with 30 minutes to go and kept it simple at midfield, playing short passes to develop the attack.
Stephan Schrock 7 – Gave the home fans something to cheer about with a delightful free kick that the Uzbek keeper misjudged. Came on at halftime to spark the Azkals attack, which he did to some success, dribbling past players and winning free kicks in dangerous areas. Showed good movement to get on the end of Younghusband’s through ball only to be foiled by the Uzbek keeper.
Amani Aguinaldo 6 – Made a good account of himself on his return from injury. Big and strong, he did well dealing with the aerial threat of Sergeev.
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