July 21, 2011

Azkals vs. Kuwait: The most important match in Pinoy football history

Ah, yes. For some reason, I love starting posts with "Ah, yes". So, ah, yes, the Azkals' match against the Kuwaitis is upon us. This series is, with no doubt, the most important in the history of football in this country. This will make or break apparent surging popularity of the Azkals. If they lose the series, you can practically kiss football in the country goodbye -- at most it'll be a niche sport like... I dunno. Volleyball?

The Kuwaitis are former Asian champions. The Kuwaitis will be the strongest compeititon the Azkals will face since the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup when they faced Indonesia. However, unlike the series against the Indonesians, we have a home game. As what the Azkals had demonstrated, the home field advantage is a big advantage. In a game where one goal is all that matters, a game on the home field would help any underdog.

We'd have to review that game vs. the Indonesians first. The Azkals lost 0-1 on both matches on Jakarta, both goals scored by Uruguayan-born Indonesian Cristian Gonzales. I forgot how the first goal transpired, but the second goal was virtually impossible for any keeper to save. That got me thinking, if the Azkals played one leg here, what would've been the result? And another question: when did the revamped Azkals faced formidable opposition at home with a chance of progressing?

Now for the Kuwaitis: they're not like the Indonesians. They're stronger and are better funded. And they play in the desert. While the Azkals may have acclimatized already, like the home field here, their home field would be their advantage. However, we have the luck of the draw: we play the second leg. Usually, those who play the second leg at home are the one that advances, unless if the first leg result has a margin of three or more.

Which brings me to the next point: the Azkals must not let the game slip away. Apparently, coach Weiss has this covered as he concentrated on defense. If you look at it, it's the reverse as the visitors should be the one on the offensive as the home team would rather have a goalless draw than a draw with goals scored, or even a win where the visitors scored.

So what is a satisfactory result for the Azkals? A win against the Kuwaitis on their home ground is a massive. A goalless draw, on the other hand, is not that satisfactory: A 1-1 result here means they'd progress. In any case, the Azkals must score; even if they lose, the team has an important away goal. So in essence, a 0-1 loss is better than a 0-0 draw. In two-legged fixtures, winning and losing isn't that important: scoring goals is the key. The Azkals and Mongolia split the series, but the Azkals progressed because they scored more goals. You'd only focus on "winning" if the Kuwaitis won 5-0 at their home and a home win here is needed to save face.

And now, for a rant. I know the phrase "true football fan" has been parodied these days: it implies those who are not "true football fans" don't even deserve to cheer for the Azkals. Nevertheless, "true football fans" must be mighty pissed to hear phrases such as "Sri Lanka Brave Reds," "Philippine Azkals" and "Mongolian Blue Wolves". It's like saying "Liverpool Reds" or "Manchester United Red Devils." You don't combine the place name and the nickname. Either they're "Liverpool" or "The Reds" but never "the Liverpool Reds."

So I implore the Philippine media, to do not use the American way of naming teams to denote football teams, except for those teams in North America and elsewhere that use that nomenclature (such as the Philadelphia Union). We can talk about the Azkals, Brave Reds, Blue Wolves, etc., but please, drop the country name.

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