Two games. Two wins. Six points. Sitting comfortably on top of Group H.
The Azkals proved that they have the quality to brush aside group bottom-seed Yemen, 2-0, with second-half goals coming from a beautiful Bahadoran turn-and-shoot on the 52nd minute and an Iaian Ramsay tap-in off a Patino square pass on the 75th minute from a swift counter-attack.
Here are some of my observations (during the times that I was able to keep my eyes wide awake):
(Note: All photos were taken from the web.)
1. Misagh is on fire
Proving that his first international goal was no fluke, Misagh was a constant nuisance vs. Yemen as most of the Azkals meaningful chances came from the right flank. Misagh’s decision-making have greatly improved from the headless chicken runs he used make. His Zidane-sque turn and shoot was a perfect reward for a brilliant display over two consecutive Azkals game. Two games, two goals for the Filipino-Iranian. Dooley will have a selection dilemma once Schrock gets well.
2. Azkals are confident with the ball
The Azkals were able to make a string of intricate passes, even under pressure and even near Etheridge’s goal. The Azkals did not crack. But on some occasions, they were too confident opting to make the pass instead of doing the clearance. But it was the perfect occasion, with Yemen the lowest-ranked team in the group, for the players to perfect their first touches and ball control in a competitive match. With Uzbekistan and North Korea in the next two games, the Azkals may not have that many touches compared to this game in Doha.
3. Luke Woodland – a bright spot in the middle of defense (or midfield)
Former England U17 member Luke Woodland belies his 19 years of age as he proves that he has what it takes to become a regular starter in the heart of the Azkals team, whether in central defense or in central midfield. Rob Gier can now feel easy knowing that there is someone who can ably take his place to protect the Azkals goal. We will see how he fares against more quality opposition, Uzbekistan, in September 8.
4. Azkals need to work on their set pieces
The Azkals have a number of corner kicks during the game, with none making even just a clear cut chance on goal. Manny Ott was the designated corner kick taker, then they shifted to inverted wingback Martin Steuble take take advantage of his left-footed cross to provide the spin but the Yemen defense was always first to every ball coming into their penalty box. The Azkals then tried short corners but still no success. It is high time (pun not intended) for Dooley to use the Azkals height to trouble the opposition.
5. There are no easy games
With the Azkals beating Bahrain on their first game, fans would have thought that Yemen will be a walk in the park for Phil and his pack. But the Azkals found the Yemen defense a tough nut to crack even with a lion share of possession. Half-time ended at 0-0. But just like the first game, Dooley may have some magic formula for half-time team talks as the Azkals, Misagh in particular, came out hungrier than the first whistle to open the scoring via a Patino-Bahadoran inter-exchange that caught the Yemen defense napping. After the first goal, Yemen became more daring as they launch a number of attacks leading to one particular chance which could have made it 1-1 had it not been for a miskick by a Yemen attacker. Luckily, the Azkals did not crumble and finally got their second goal off a counter-attack with Iaian Ramsay latching on to a Patino square pass to record his first ever international goal.
6. Lastly, Azkals fans are everywhere
Wherever the Azkals play, there are always Filipinos in the stadium. Anyways, they and the Azkals are the testament to the global phenomenon of Filipino migration. As a player, it is always good to hear being cheered on by supporters. Sometimes, it provides that adrenaline to go the extra miles.