Here are three points from Yemen’s draw with the Philippines in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.
1) The Azkals defence is in shambles
– The dearth of Centre Back options are killing the Azkals. For this game, Sean Patrick Kane and Dennis Villanueva stepped up to the plate despite playing out of position, with varying results.
Kane acquitted himself with calm and composure. The JPV Marikina man made several key interceptions, and saved Neil Etheridge from an inbound corner header. A solid debut that bodes well for the Azkals’ utility options.
The same cannot be said for Dennis Villanueva. The Global Cebu midfielder has played numerous times in the Azkal back line, with no improvement whatsoever. Late tackles, unconvincing marking and giving the ball away in dangerous areas simply couldn’t be removed from his game at CB. Good thing the crossbar saved him from an embarassing freebie pass to Yemen in the first half. Thomas Dooley must now consider dropping him from the CB roll. He is clearly unfit for the position.
2) Mixed bag in attack
-It took 89 minutes for the boys in blue to salvage the game via Mike Ott. It shows that the Azkals were made to earn their chances in the game. The 4-4-2 they used produced a lackluster performance from a majority of attackers and midfielders.
First, Mike Ott was saved by his goal. For 88 minutes, he was quiet and had a nearly bad game. That tied in to the fact that he cut inside from the right wing in the first half, then as a secondary runner up front in the second. His postioning and space to attack was blocked, due to the suffocating defence employed by Yemen against Phil Younghusband.
Phil, due to the defence, was expectedly quiet. However, it is clear to see that he is not the striker of old. He now prefers to sit in the hole and create, instead of playing at the shoulders and attacking with movement. This created problems in attack, since no one else played the target man/forward runner role in the squad. Pika Minegishi, also a roaming playmaker, did not run behind into the box.
The overabundance of playmakers up front is useless without a striker to create for. They should now prime the likes Jhan Melliza, Dylan De Bruycker and Connor Tacagni to poach the goals while Javi Patiño and Misagh Bahadoran are out.
3) Dooley’s questionable decisions
-For a crucial game, Thomas Dooley made some questionable decisions. First, playing 4-4-2 for a team full of creative players and only one servicing wing is baffling enough. The defence employed on Phil, the space that ate in front of Mike Ott, and the inefficacy of Minegishi up front, meant that the Yemenis were happy to let Iain Ramsay and Daisuke Sato cross to an empty box from the left.
Next are the substitutions. Junior Muñoz was immediately attacked during his introduction, leading to Tawfiq Ali’s goal. Then, Coach Dooley replaced Sean Kane, the better performing defender, for James Younghusband after Yemen sat back and employed the counterattack tactics seen in Panaad. Muñoz acquitted himself by winning the ball that led to Mike Ott’s goal, but James and Curt Dizon, who replaced the lone attacking outlet Iain Ramsay, did nothing of note to help chase the game.
Lastly, there seems to be no other options in attacking tactics. You would’ve thought the Azkals were leading in the second half instead of chasing the game with the slow possession game. Dooley needs to instill more technical aspects and fluid movement in the squad. As it is, the Azkals would be in for a rude awakening if we qualify for 2019. To do that with certainty, the Azkals must climb the Himalayas and beat Nepal at their home.