It was another eventful night at the Panaad Parks and Stadium despite the Philippines lacking some home support even at our home pitch, the Philippine Azkals showed their grit to steal a point against China in their first tussle in the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.
The script for tonight couldn’t have been written better than this. The Philippines, ranked 127th in the world and 23rd in Asia has gotten a point against China, a side sitting pretty on 67th place in the world and seventh in the continent in a tightly-contented match at the Panaad Stadium.
It took the Philippines 104 years to earn another point against China. It was back in 1913 that we won our first game against them and in 1915 where we drew nil-nil.
So with no further ado, we now look into the five takeaways from the match by yours truly, Tito Jay.
1) Neil Etheridge’s massive presence at the back
It was rowdy at the back of the Philippines’ defensive backbone not because they made a lot of mistakes but someone was screaming at the top of his lungs and to organize his defence.
It was quite evident that having Neil Etheridge back between the sticks gave us the boost we needed against a very tough opponent in China. The experience he gathered from his first full season in the English Premier League last year proved to be the difference for this night.
His save in the dying minutes of the match became the most vital part of the match as the ball was already making its way into the back of the net. Junmin Hao’s in a position of scoring right at the edge of the box but the Cardiff City FC custodian punched it away to save the Azkals’ blushes.
All in all, Etheridge couldn’t have picked the perfect time to get back between the sticks for the Azkals to face China at home. It was the country’s first clean sheet since 1915 against the mighty Dragons.
2) Defending like their lives depended on it
The Azkals have been dealt with a lot of attacking from the visiting side but all of them just gone begging thanks to some tight defending from almost everyone wearing white.
China has seen a foray of chances in the first half making them the more dominant side but they had a lot of problems converting their shots into goals especially with almost all 11 players going back in defence for the Philippines.
Scott Cooper emphasized making sure they don’t just play good in the first 15 to 20 minutes of the match but they have to be at their best in the entire game.
The players showed that despite being ranked a lot of places below the mighty dragons from the Far East, they will not back down and they will throw their bodies on the line just to avoid conceding a goal against the opposition.
Not only does Etheridge gave quite an intimidating posture between the posts, but the backline of the Philippines stayed composed to keep the side level heading into halftime.
3) Proper attacking chances from the wings
We already know that having Patrick Reichelt play from the wings can give us a lot of boost in terms of pace but he showed us as well that he can really open the space up for his teammates in the middle.
They even allowed Sato to take a crack on goal only to find his shot fizzing wide of the right post. The wingbacks really worked well to give some force in defence and also give some pressure on attack.
The dying minutes of the match really showed what the Philippines can do in terms of counter-attacking. Had they converted their final chance of the match, it could’ve sent Panaad Stadium in pandemonium and virtually shush the “home side” wearing red.
4) Spur of attack when we have the ball
The Philippines didn’t have much of the possession against China but when they do, they punished the opponents in the attack. The boys in white only shot the ball seven times with four of them being on target.
On the other hand, China PR had a total of 29 shots on goal with 14 of them being on target. Despite these numbers, none of these went into the back of the net.
Stephan Schröck was on a whole new level operating in the middle of the park and making the defenders second-guess themselves. John Patrick Straüss was also the axis we can cling to with his quick turns and flashy runs.
Lastly, Reichelt’s blistering run down the right flank might not show much of a threat but it opened up a lot of chances for the Azkals in the middle. Over the last three games in this qualifying journey, this has been, by far, the most attacking one that we had.
Should the Azkals keep this momentum, who knows where the road can take us?
5) Silencing the “home crowd”
In a game where there’s supposed to be a see of white and blue, the Panaad Parks and Stadium saw a flock of people in red and waving the Chinese flag.
It was an utter disappointing thing to see given the fact that this is our home game. We’re supposed to be intimidating the visitors and not seeing them have more people than us.
Nevertheless, the Philippine Azkals silenced the travelling fans after the final whistle has been blown as they were able to keep them scoreless and drop their first game in three matches.
It might’ve saddened me to see this kind of sight but this still goes to show that we still need to educate a lot more people regarding the importance of these kinds of matches.
The question is, will this be the last time we’ll see the pristine Panaad Parks and Stadium be dominated by a travelling side?