A stern test: preview of Azkals versus Thailand

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On Sunday night the Philippines Mens National Football team clashes with Thailand in a FIFA international friendly in Nakhon Ratchasima. This will be the penultimate tune-up for Thomas Dooley’s men before the Suzuki Cup opener on November 22 against Laos. The kickoff time, at the time of this writing, has yet to be determined.

The Philippines hosts Cambodia in Rizal Memorial on the 14th in the final warm-up game. Thailand are also in the Suzuki Cup but in a different group from the Philippines.

Dooley brings the usual suspects to Thailand, with a few interesting choices and omissions.

Satoshi Otomo, a Filipino Japanese from Global, is making his first foray into international football at the age of 33. The itinerant forward has played in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Myanmar.

Otomo played in Global’s loss to Ceres in the UFL Cup final last Tuesday but was a non-factor from what I recall. Otomo played in the center of the midfield. Mark Hartmann tells me that the newcomer is startlingly quick for a man his age.

Dennis Villanueva, another Global player who is a Filipino-Italian defender, is also on an Azkals squad list for the first time. He hasn’t played much for Global in the UFL lately so I haven’t had a chance to evaluate him.

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Paolo Bugas has made Dooley’s roster for the second friendly in a row. The FEU mid was solid in the semis and finals of the UFL Cup.

There’s no room on the extra-large 24-man roster for Anton Del Rosario and Carlie De Murga, who hurt his knee last Thursday in the UFL final playing for Ceres.

Speaking of Ceres, the club has released its players for this game, so Patrick Reichelt, Manny Ott, Juani Guirado and Christiaens will be available this time along with Paul Mulders. Once more there are only two keepers on the list. Teams ordinarily bring three in a competition like the Suzuki Cup, so if Roland Muller cannot come, then another netminder will have to come along aside from Patrick Deyto and Tomas Trigo of Socceroo, who are both available against Thailand.

The Philippines will be playing against the War Elephants for the first time since the 2012 Suzuki Cup, when Thailand defeated the Philippines in Bangkok’s Rajamangala stadium 2-1. I was in the stands that day in bahag and through the feathers in my Igorot headdress I could tell that the score flattered the Philippines.

Thailand were superior, with two first half goals. The sickest moment was when midfield engine Datsakorn Thonglao lofted a beautiful 30-yard ball to star striker Teerasil Dangda. The forward narrowly missed the target with his attempt. Wanna know what makes that little play doubly impressive? Thonglao did it with the outside of the boot and Dangda fired wide with his weaker foot.

Neither Dangda nor Thonglao are on the squad list, it seems. Dangda is busy on loan with Almeria in La Liga. (Yes, THAT La Liga, as in Barca/Madrid La Liga.) Since the Suzuki Cup is not on international dates, the Spanish side don’t have to release him. Thonglao seems to not have been selected.

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Thailand are silly deep. I look at their roster and barely recognize any names from 2012. Charyl Chappuis, their Swiss-Thai is there, (expect some banter with Martin Steuble at the final whistle), as is Kawin Thamsatchanan the keeper and Kirati Keowsombut, who scored the header in the Suzuki Cup final second leg that brought Thailand to within one goal, 3-2, of Singapore. ‘

Coaching Thailand is Kiatisuk Senamuang, the 41-year old legend who scored over five hundred goals in his career including seventy in a Thai jersey. Ominously, he put five past the Philippines in a 9-0 shellacking in Brunei way back in 1999. I am told that he is a revered, charismatic figure in Thai football and that the players will go all out for him. In Philippine terms, a Jaworski with cleats.

The Philippines has a lousy record against Thailand. FIFA’s website says we defeated them in 1971 and 1972. But since then the War Elephants have beaten us thirteen straight times. Since 1998 only three Philippine goals have breached Thai nets:  Tagoy Kalalang in 1998 in a 3-1 loss, Chieffy Caligdong via a shock opener in an eventual 3-1 loss in Malaysia, and Paul Mulders’ late goal in 2012 at Rajamangala.

For me, Thailand is ASEAN’s Germany. Their footballing structure is mature, sustainable, and well-funded. Their squads are highly-skilled and crafty. They once won SEA Games football gold a ridiculous seven straight times. Thailand has not win the AFF championship since 2002 but they have reached the final on three of the last four occasions.

This picture on the tournament FB page confirms that Thailand are the all-time best team in this competition. But one gets the impression that Thailand looks beyond ASEAN these days.

The Philippines are ranked 129th in the world by FIFA, 36 spots ahead of Thailand. I doubt if we will feel that gap at all on Sunday.

The game should be very tough for a tired Philippine squad who are in the midst of a brutal schedule. Getting any sort of result from the match will be an achievement. But this is football, so anything can happen.

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH. 

Source Article from http://ph.sports.yahoo.com/blogs/thepassionatefan/a-stern-test-preview-of-azkals-versus-thailand-161745532.html
A stern test: preview of Azkals versus Thailand
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