Men's National Team

Taming the Dragons of the Far East: Five Keys to Victory for the Philippine Azkals against China

With just a couple of days remaining, the excitement amongst the fans is now evident as everyone’s expecting some fireworks come October 15, 2019, at the Panaad Park and Stadium where the Philippine Azkals face China PR National Football Team for the Joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.

Serving as the most pivotal match for the Azkals’ campaign to progress to the next stage of the world’s most prestigious tournament, this is a make or break game for the Philippines knowing the capacity of their opponents on the 15th of October.

The 23-man squad who will be facing China on October 15 showed quite some interesting inclusions with the likes of Elias Edison Suerti, Niko De Vera and of course, an on-form OJ Porteria whose been making quite a noise for himself again in the Philippines Football League.

A win against the eighth-best ranking nation in Asia could propel us to second place in Group A with Syria expected to win over their opponents Guam. For now, we look into the five things the Azkals must do in order to win over China.

1) The Bus is back and we have to trust him

After missing out the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup and our maiden stint in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, Cardiff City FC goalkeeper Neil Etheridge is back with the Azkals and what I time for him to do so.

The Tower of Power has already recovered from the injury he got in their opening fixture against Wigan Athletic. It was a significant amount of time that Etheridge needs to make up for but having him back between the posts must be a thing we should love seeing.

His records with the three stars and a sun won’t actually lie. Over the last eight years that he suited up for the Azkals, he’s already had 11 clean sheets in 28 matches.

With him expected to feature in the match against Marcello Lippi’s wards, his hands will be tested to the limits by the likes of RCD Espanyol de Barcelona winger Wu Lei, Ai Kesen, and Wu Xi. This will also be the first time that he’ll be facing China as he already missed out the first three meetings.

The Azkals will be clinging on the experience that Etheridge has especially when it comes to being vocal at the back. He’s been into many top-flight league games already that requires mental stability regardless of their adversary.

2) The midfield connection should be clicking at all times

China is known to be lethal in attack but not that scary in defence. Good teams like South Korea and Iran have exposed this but our neighbours, Thailand also showed us a glimpse of what we can do against them.

Over the last three meetings between Thailand and China, the Dragons have won two of them while they dropped their most recent one. Fresh from their Asian Cup stint, they’ve faced each other on the 21st of March this year for the China Cup.

Everything was going well for the home side until the 33rd minute. Chanathip Songkrasin scored from a counter-attack that was sparked by Adisak Kraisorn from the midfield.

An incisive pass towards the path of Thithipan Puangchan who was freed up on the right before passing the ball back to the middle for Songkrasin to finish into the back of the net.

We can emulate this kind of play given that we have a bit of pace in our strides as well. The connection between John Patrick Straüss, Stephan Schröck, Patrick Reichelt and, if OJ Porteria makes the starting line-up given that Javier Patiño won’t feature in this match, will be vital for this to work for us.

We all know that the players mentioned above can use their pace and skills to get past the defence of China just like how Thailand did on their one-nil victory away from home.

If things will go right and we get our first goal from that kind of play, our midfield should work tirelessly to keep the ball away from the opposition and to see the game out thinking about going away with the win.

3) Work hard as your life depends on it

It doesn’t happen every day that you are given a great chance to face China in a World Cup qualifying match. And if you are given the opportunity, you might think to yourself, will you for the win or will you be happy enough to go home with a point?

That’s not the case we are facing come October 15. This is an important match for the entire country as the hopes of progressing to the next round of the competition can be determined as early as this upcoming match.

Heading into their big tussle at the Panaad Stadium, China PR has just demolished Guam via 7-nil route at the Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou. This gives them a commanding at the top of group A with six points and a whopping +12 goal difference.

With the Dragons yet to concede a goal in the qualifiers, the Philippines will have to work as hard as they can for them to go away with a win or at least a draw against very tough opposition.

The Azkals will have some boost in their confidence as they’ve made the most out of their closed-door friendly match against Thailand Premier League side Chainat Hornbill FC.

In the said friendly match, Angel Guirado, Jovin Bedic and Mark Hartmann were all on-target to fend off Chainat Hornbill FC via 3-1 scoreline. Should the momentum push them on against China, we might be in for a treat and a possible upset against a very tough opponent.

4) Unconventional or Traditional?

In the Azkals’ opening match against Syria, Philippine Azkals coaches Goran Milejovic and Scott Cooper took an unconventional approach to the match by fielding a 3-4-1-2 despite some huge threat coming from Omar Al-Soma and Firas Al-Khatib.

It kind of worked for them during the first 15 minutes of the match as they were able to hold the attacks from the visiting side. They also managed to get the opener as early as the first six minutes thanks to Javier Patiño.

However, when Al-Soma scored the equalizer on the 30th minute, the Syrians didn’t look back and went on a scoring barrage at the Panaad. During that match, it exposed everything that can go wrong for our defence.

Despite his height, Daisuke Sato has been chosen to play in the centre back position which is quite different from his natural wing-back position. We got hit twice in the same position by the same goalscorer Al-Soma in the middle thanks to that height advantage over Sato.

There’s nothing wrong with using this kind of system against China as their players focus more on blistering runs rather than using such height advantage inside the box.

However, it’s still recommended that the Azkals play Sato on either right or left-back as he can also provide some exquisite balls inside the box once they ignite their counter-attack just like how he’s done in this play for Muangthong United.

There’s also this feeling inside of me that the Azkals might approach this game in a more conservative/traditional style of play with Angel Guirado being dropped to the midfield position compared to the first two matches where he played as one of the forwards.

The 23-man squad of the Azkals boasts some young guns that might feature in this match as well. Should Cooper and Milejovic gives them boys the playing time they deserve for the nation, it might be taken as unconventional but we hope it’ll work.

Recently getting his call-up for the three stars and a sun, Niko De Vera, a former New York Red Bulls player and currently playing for Portland Timbers 2, could offer some pace and tenacity down the left flank.

He plays in a similar position where Sato plays so it’s quite unclear if he will feature in this match against China but if he will, he could tear down the opposition and provide some tasty crosses inside the box for our strikers.

Another young talent we’re eager to see in this match will be Elias Edison Suerti. A product of the Norwegian U-19 squad and Molde FK II, this pacy right-back can offer some blistering runs from defence and some penetrating balls for the forwards to capitalize on.

Two great talents we’re eager to see, would Cooper and Milejovic go for safety, or will it be gloves off against China?

5) Home field advantage

As it always was, Panaad Stadium offers a magnificent atmosphere every time the national team plays here thanks to the festive tune of drums, the technical analysis you can hear from the stands and of course, passionate fans that will sing for the nation for 90 minutes.

Over the last few matches, the attendance did not reflect how passionate the Negrenses are for the sport but it’s about time for them to go all-out. more specifically, to join Ultras Filipinas in terms of chanting for the nation.

Their attendance over the last friendlies and competitive matches were quite disappointing but with proper knowledge dissemination, only time will tell before this group can gather as many people to create a hostile environment for the opponents, and an atmosphere worthy of three points from the Azkals.

These lads will not stop chanting for the country and will keep on egging them on towards the win with their catchy songs and dancing repertoire.

If you want to see the Azkals move on further in this qualifying journey, join the lads who will sing their hearts out for the flag and contribute to the noise that can rattle the Chinese players in this intense battle.

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