It wasn’t the start everyone was hoping to see but the Philippines yielded to Syria in their opening match at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup Joint Qualification Round 2.
Last night served as a barometer for the Azkals‘ quality against one of Asia’s powerhouse. Goals from Omar Al-Soma, Mahmoud Alwas, Khaled Al-Mobayed and Firas Al-Khatib spurred them to a 5-2 victory away from home which puts them at the top of the pecking order in Group A. Let’s now take a look at the five takeaways of Tito Jay from this match.
1) Great start but no follow-through
We’ve shown signs of winning this match during the early stages especially when we got Javier Patiño got the opener on the seventh minute thanks to an assist from the returning Angel Guirado. Martin Steuble sent a gorgeous ball just at the edge of the box for Guirado who then headed it to the path of Patiño which he finished with his head.
It was at the first 10 minutes of the match that we felt we have a chance of winning this game. We had the optimism, we knew it was doable.
However, when Al-Soma scored the equalizer on the 14th minute, it gave the Syrians some breathing space and took some load off their shoulders. The play started off with their captain Firas Al-Khatib who gave found the open space for Hussein Al Jwayed on the right.
Al Jwayed then had an exchange with Al Mawas before Al Jwayed sent the ball inside the box for Soma to head into the back of the net. From then on, the Syrians capitalized on the mistakes of the Azkals to fire them up to a 5-2 victory.
” I’m disappointed because at 1-nil we could’ve defended better and tried to make it two,” said Scott Cooper who voiced out his frustration after some defensive lapses caused the squad to lose their momentum.
He also said, “Once you get there, you’ve got to protect it. I could see a way of winning the game.”
Going back to what the Azkals have done correctly in this match was that they had their gameplan in place, but Syria knew how to switch their tactics right away.
There were moments that the Azkals could’ve doubled the league through set pieces and continuously pressuring the defence but we couldn’t finish the play.
“We have to realize tonight could’ve been different. At 1-0, if we hold on for 10 more minutes maybe get another set-piece, the landscape of the game is different. We’ve had 14 shots they got 9. We’ve had 8 corners, they had 3,” said Cooper about the missed opportunities.
2) We followed the scouting report but we forgot about the others
It has been obvious that the men to watch for Syria was Firas Al Khatib because of his creativity and Omar Al-Soma for his height and tenacity, however, we’ve forgotten to check the others who made a lot of impact for Syria.
It was not enough to just pick a few players to watch since everyone wearing red that night made their own difference. However, there were two more players we could’ve studied more.
Mahmoud Alwas made life difficult for Daisuke Sato and Martin Steuble because of his pace and ball control.
Shortly after Mike Ott scored the second goal for the Philippines, it was Alwas who then broke the hearts of the fans and killed our chances for a miraculous comeback.
Khaled Al Mobayed broke free on the counter-attack then passed the ball to a streaking Alwas down the left wing. All he had to do was to dribble past Alvaro Silva before slotting it into the back of the net.
Talking about Al Mobayed, he’s another pacey player who showcased a spectacular past the tall Silva. On the 30th minute of the match, he wriggled his way past Kevin Ingreso after a simple tap from Al Khatib. He then tapped the ball to the side of Silva before blasting a shot past Michael Falkesgaard.
Another one we didn’t gave more focus on was Hussein Al Jwayed. As a natural defender as he is, he thwarted most of the chances of the Azkals with his almost perfect position.
However, he also roamed around the pitch and made it towards the right flank on the 14th minute to help his side equalize the match. The assist he provided to Omar Al Soma was just enough to avoid Sato’s effort of clearing the ball and for the Al Ahli forward to head it into the back of the net.
Had the squad knew how much impact these players can bring to the plate, it could’ve been a different story for the home side.
3) Daisuke Sato could’ve stayed out wide
Scott Cooper’s system in place last night focused on thwarting the chances in midfield and going for a quick counter-attack. This is where we could’ve used Daisuke Sato in his natural position as a left-back.
We might’ve focused on stopping Al Khatib from materializing any effort in the middle but what Cooper missed was the height advantage of Al Soma over him.
Al Soma’s brace came from almost the similar run of play. On the 56th minute, he got his brace after a cross from Amro Jenyat found him open upfront before he soared in the air and headed the ball past Falkesgaard.
Had we put Silva in the middle to cover for the towering Al Ahli standout, those goals could’ve been disrupted.
He could also provide a lot of things in attack all the way from the back. An example of this was when the Azkals went into desperation mode on the 84th minute. Stephan Schröck delivered a curling ball inside the box which was met tapped by Sato towards the path of Mike Ott who finished the job.
4) Officiating was a bit dubious
There were fouls that could’ve been given in favour of the Philippines and there were just simply costly.
The penalty call on the 48th proved to be the pivotal point of the match. It was where all hopes crumbled. However, replay suggests a possible high boot on Sato.
He dived in to head the ball out Ward Al Salama looked to have caught Sato by a boot to the face. The referee awarded for a spot-kick as the ball hit the 24-year-old Muangthong United defender’s hand.
Firas Al Khatib converted the spot-kick to give them a comfortable two-goal margin over the Azkals.
“I’m disappointed with the ref too because while he gives a penalty against Sato, the kid’s got a foot in his face,” said Cooper about the penalty call.
We could’ve won a penalty of our own during some tussle inside the box through set-pieces. Cooper saw some rough-housing on Angel Guirado.
“Angel Guirado’s being held and because he’s going in to head, the defender just pushed him from the back. The ref stood right there and didn’t give it because he said to me he didn’t fall over. That one’s more obvious,” said Cooper.
There are matches where the drama relies on the calls of the referee aside that affects the flow of the match and this seemed to be one of them. Had we not conceded a penalty, what story could the Azkals have written?
5) Give the youngsters a chance to showcase their talents
Late into the match, we’ve seen Cooper introduce the likes of Carli De Murga and Mark Hartmann. yes, they might have the skillset to give us some hopes of making it back to the game but we could’ve tried to inject some fresh, young legs into the match.
The 23-man squad of Cooper gave us some promising names that can be put to good use. For example, if we need some size at the back, instead of putting in De Murga, we could’ve used Justin Baas.
The 19-year-old defender who plies his trade with Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar stands six-foot-tall and has the ability to intercept the ball and open up spaces for his teammates.
Not only does the kid plays as a defender, but he can also play as a midfielder. Being a product of the Dutch youth system, he could showcase his skills in terms of playing “total football”.
Another one that could be used by Cooper is the 18-year-old Yrik Galantes. He’s currently with Hibernian FC in Scotland and is already showing some real promise.
He can play in either midfield or as a forward which could’ve given the Azkals some fresh look.
Lastly, we would not just leave Marco Casambre unnoticed. One of the homegrown talents whose now showcasing his skills with Chainat Hornbill in the Thailand Premier League.
The former UP Fighting Maroons defender has been making his name in the league of the big boys and had he been given a chance to be subbed in last night, who knows what he can bring to the table.
Despite not playing the young guns against Syria probably because of the intensity of the match as well as a possibility of these players freezing in the game due to lack of senior international team football experience, they’re most likely be able to show what they got come September 10 against Guam.
With the current influx of young talents here and abroad, only time can tell what the future holds for the Philippine Azkals.
For now, we go back to the drawing board and regroup before heading into the next match.