The Bleachers King: Signs from Azkals win

Posted at 11/18/2012 1:15 PM | Updated as of 11/18/2012 3:22 PM

It’s not astrology but this is how I interpret this 1-0 win by the Philippines over Singapore.

When the Spanish expedition left Cebu in 1521, they returned to the Iberian Peninsula with tales of savages routing their forces in Mactan. The Spanish crown sent a few more expeditions but they could not immediately subjugate the locals.

When the Singapore Lions leave Cebu in a day following their 1-nil loss, they will tell all that the Philippines’ meteoric rise in world football isn’t a fluke as some would have it. The rest of Southeast Asia will do well to take notice and try to subjugate the upstarts in the upcoming Suzuki Cup.

If they were paying attention, these are signs that all should recognize.

1. Ed Sacapaño is in mighty fine form

After this massive performance, Eddie will not be accused of being one of the few token homegrown players on the squad. Beginning with his staunch and steady goal-tending in the Peace Cup all the way to this match, Sacapaño should why he is and has been with the national team for quite some time.

Before the quarterfinals match with Loyola in the current UFL Cup, Ed admitted that for a time he began to doubt his abilities. His three clean sheets during the Peace Cup and this incredible performance against the Lions where he had at least six massive saves or stops -- including a horrendous penalty that was awarded to Singapore -- will surely boost his confidence heading into the Suzuki Cup.

And with Neil Etheridge and possibly Roland Muller unavailable, a confident Sacapaño will play a huge role in any title aspirations. If anything, Eddie showed that he is a keeper literally and figuratively.

2. Patrick Reichelt is the new workhorse

For close to a decade now, the industriousness and speed of Chieffy Caligdong on the left flank provided not only excitement and scoring sock but also danger to opponents. Reichelt as well as Jeffrey Christiaens are heirs to the Chief on either side of the pitch.

But Reichelt, even if he plays the right wing, is like a roving Tasmanian Devil. His work rate allows him to help out, recover, and switch to counter attack mode in a matter of seconds. His game will make him a fixture in the national team for many years to come.

Singapore had their way in the first 15 minutes of the match and it was Reichelt who was the lone threat. How many fouls did he induce from the slow-footed Lions defenders? He kept the Azkals in the fight until help arrived in the second half in the form of two brothers and some Fil-Italian dude.

3. There is no denying the impact of the Younghusband brothers

Their scintillating second-half performance where they came off the bench against Indonesia to each core a goal is no fluke.

Against Singapore, the Azkals had a few moments in the first half but the attacks lacked serious dangerous intent. When James and Phil Younghusband along with Marwin Angeles came off the bench to start the second half, the Philippines was finally able to mount serious attacks. That greatly eased the pressure from the defense that had its hands, sorry, feet full with the omnipresent threat of the Lions and their dangerous set pieces coming from Hariss Harun.

That cross of Phil to Reichelt whose shot found its way to the middle and was booted in by Angeles was a thing of beauty. Sans the best free kick taker in the country in Mark Hartmann, Phil will do. James himself was quietly efficient and his cross where he targeted Denis Wolf was just as lovely. But it is unfortunate that the Lions keeper batted his header out.

That kind of aggressive play is exactly what a substitute should bring to a match. But do you really want to keep the brothers on bench? If we get buried early then it might be too late for them to inspire a comeback. It isn’t every game where the nationals will get to reprise the comeback such as what they accomplished against Indonesia.

One thing is for sure, the brothers have been regular fixtures with the national team for a while now and they will continue to do so for several more years.

4. The torch is being passed. Everyone should watch out

I wondered what Singapore was thinking when they stepped on the Cebu City Sports Complex. There was that 2-0 win in Singapore a couple of months ago. And then there were guys like Ed Sacapaño, Rob Gier, Ray Jonsson, Jason de Jong, Chieffy Caligdong, and Chris Greatwich on the pitch.

The last time Greatwich faced this team, he scored the equalizer (in the opening game of the Philippines’ group stage assignment of the 2010 Suzuki Cup). The Greatwich goal (including his first strike against Vietnam in the following game) will go down as one of the most important goals ever scored in Philippine national team history.

During the 2010 Suzuki Cup no one wanted to talk about the Azkals. In the presscon to kickoff the tournament, the only time the Philippines was included in any discussion by the foreign media was how many goals they would score against us. After the draw with Singapore and the win against Vietnam, all of a sudden, every other foreign team wanted to hang out and engage the Philippines in some chatter. The team went from the invisible man to being the coolest kid on the block. And these guys (along with Neil Etheridge, Ian Araneta, Anton del Rosario, Aly Borromeo, and Roel Gener) made it all possible. For years they endured beating after beating and carried the torch for Philippine football.

I know that these guys including the newbies aren’t done making history. In fact they are still writing history. Did you watch Rob Gier tonight? He was solid in the back along with old linemate Ray Jonsson.

I also think that the vets deserve to go to Thailand as they earned this. Their efforts kicked off this football mania that has not abated even one iota. But the winds of change are swirling. It is possible that this might be the last Suzuki Cup appearance of Gier, Jonsson, Caligdong, and Greatwich.

But the national team will be in capable hands of the likes of Jason Sabio, Jeffrey Christiaens, Paul Mulders, Demetrius Omphroy, Matthew Uy, Marwin Angeles, and Angel Guirado to name some.

It’s also symbolic this upcoming Suzuki Cup. Not only will the older generation pass the torch to the youngsters who will make their first appearance in the biennial competition but perhaps more importantly, it also signifies that passing of the torch from the traditional regional powers to this new power rising – the Philippines.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.