Azkals vs Fiji: Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde

The Philippine Azkals had a great start that seemed poised for a comfortable 3-0 win, but visitors Fiji almost completed a comeback late in the second half in a tense ‘friendly’ that ended 3-2 for the hosts last Thursday in Rizal Stadium.

The Story

The game started well showing confidence with the ball and composure without it as they were able to mount early chances in the game and thwart the opponents’ offensive threats.

Ingreso put an effort from range in the 22nd minute just wide off the post after a promising exchange with the team.

Iain Ramsay unleashed a shot that curled on-target that was caught by Fiji goalkeeper Loaniceva in the 24th minute.

The breakthrough came as Misagh Bahadoran broke free off a through ball only to be brought down by the opposing defender inside the box.

Phil Younghusband duly obliged with the penalty-taker role as he slotted the ball home for the Azkals in the 29th minute to get the much needed lead.

Simone Rota came close as well late in the first half as he hit the crossbar that came very close to crossing over the line, to no avail.

In the second half, Coach Thomas Dooley made several substitutions which initially paid dividends as substitute Hikaru Minegishi scored in the 53rd minute while Kevin Ingreso added to the tally in the 61st with an effort from outside the box.

It could have been a “cruise-control” moment for the Azkals, but the visiting side had other plans.

Fiji got a goal back in the 74th minute after Ame Votoniu was able to dispatch his attempt towards the back of the net which gave a ray of hope for the Bula Boys.

Suddenly the away side played with a renewed energy as they were able to come up with chances, putting substitute keeper Nick O’Donnell under pressure.

The shift in momentum paid off as Fiji were awarded a penalty that was converted by Roy Krishna in the 80th minute after O’Donnell committed an infraction inside the box against the attacking opposition.

That gave the Philippines a scare in the final 14 minutes (including added time), as the visitors laid siege of the Filipinos’ goal aiming for a late equalizer coming close at one point as a mixup in the penalty box gave Fiji a chance that was just barely directed wide off the near post by the defenders.

In the end, the Azkals were able to hold on to the lead to get the win ahead of their biggest match against Tajikistan on Tuesday.

The Verdict

The Azkals started well. They may have not been able to find the back of the net in open play in the first half, but that was due to the disciplined Fijian defense.

The visiting side from the South Pacific, definitely aware of the strong midfield and attack of its rivals, was glad to sit back deep and just try its luck on the counter.

Man of the Match Misagh Bahadoran was instrumental as his positive demeanor up-fornt produced the penalty that broke the ice that was converted by Phil Younghusband.

Up until the moment Fiji got their breakthrough goal, the Azkals were mostly on-top in the early part of the second half as Hikaru Minegishi and Kevin Ingreso notched their respective goals.

The ending part was polar opposite though. The wholesale changes in the lineup to begin the second half could have disrupted the chemistry and flow enjoyed by the Filipinos earlier in the game. The two additional goals could have been due to the individual talents of Minegishi and Ingreso but in the latter stages of the game, it seemed a wholly different team was playing (like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), as hosts fought for dear life to maintain the lead.

Although he had a rough night in his stint between the posts, Nick O’Donnell’s introduction to the game in exchange for Michael Falkesgaard was a welcome one in this type of fixture for him to have an exposure as an Azkal.

His error that led to Fiji’s penalty could be something of a haunting experience as a keeper, but it could only motivate him to get much better for a shot at future call-ups.

As for the opposing side, Fiji was a worthy opponent. Though the team may have started cautiously, the way it ended on a high (just coming up short in getting the leveller) showed that the squad was serious in sizing up against its much higher ranked opponent for the night.

The way the “Bula Boys” responded after being down by three goals and getting close to spoiling the win for their hosts speak volumes of their abilities as a unit.

What’s Next?

The big game against Tajikistan should never be taken lightly. Fiji gave us trouble late in the game, all the more that the Central Asians are going to cause problems.

With The Azkals program under Coach Dooley now on its fourth year, the series of tests, tinkering, sprints, versions and patches should be more than enough to finally get a more than prototype product that will work its way in achieving its milestone (The 2019 Asian Cup).

With the parts still coming in that are going to be more than capable (with Neil Etheridge and Daisuke Sato expected to feature), it is time for Coach TD to feature his best release against “The Crowns” in their shot at history.

Parting shots

The friendly against Fiji was something our national team needs.

A good game of football in which the opposing side is playing to win could is a good test ahead of a crucial match.

It would be better to have friendlies in the future against much closely ranked (or even higher ranked) teams to really have a better assessment of the squad.

But the most immediate and important task at hand is definitely the match against Tajikistan and The Azkals would need at least a draw to ensure that their tickets are booked to the big stage next year in UAE.

Quotes and Interviews

“I think we should have won (with) more goals against Fiji… But it allowed us to see the things that we have to do for the more important game on Tuesday (against Tajikistan).” — Dan Palami, Azkals Manager

“If our goalkeeper did not make a silly mistake… maybe we could have gotten a fraw” — Christophe Gamel, Fiji Head Coach

Images sourced from: The Philippine Football Federation