Tale of the Underdogs:
How Philippine Azkals
Overcame Mighty Korea DPR
On March 29, 2016, the Philippines witnessed its greatest achievement in football to date–the Azkals came from behind to defeat Korea DPR in the dying embers of the game.
There are a lot of points to pick up from the game. From the growth of the team, to the members of the staff–a lot has changed in the span of two years. The win can well be attributed to the positive change in the dressing room; the Azkals possess a sort of confidence that was absent before. They’re hungry and actually play as a team now, fighting for one another to take the Philippines higher on the FIFA Rankings.
Ten years ago, being top in South East Asia would have been nothing but a dream. Today, the Azkals are within reach of that dream. Let’s see what trace this great underdog story in the list below:
8. Youth System
In the past, the Azkals were expected to field veteran players past their prime such as Rob Gier, Paul Mulders and the Guirado brothers, mostly due to a lack of younger talents.s. Today, that is not the case. Coach Dooley has disassembled Weiss’ old team and invested in a lot of youth players such as Amani Aguinaldo, Miguel Tanton and Daisuke Sato. The move has proved to be very effective against the North Koreans as the youngsters were able to keep up with the pace of the former World Cup finalists.
It’s noteworthy that the youngsters made up the line of defense (a position that requires a lot of maturity and field IQ) alongside now-retired Juani Guirado. With a lot of development in grassroots football today, it’s safe to say that the future looks bright for Philippine football.
The team was highly fluid against North Korea. The Azkals didn’t give up possession as often as they used to against big opposition. This time around, the Azkals dominated on the pitch, creating more scoring opportunities and being solid on defense. The Azkals used to be painful to watch if you were to compare them to European or even Asian football. Today, they thread the field with lines that evoke a visual masterpiece. It’s a game of beauty and finesse and they’re shaping into virtuosos. It’s definitely a changed (and upgraded) team out there.
6. 12th Man
The 12th man, aka the crowd, was electrifying in the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium while supporting their nation’s team against the favorites, North Korea. Every time an Azkal would touch the ball, the crowd would cheer, to the obvious delight of the team. The team rode the crowd’s positive energy and did not slow down for a second. The North Korean team, on the other hand, seemed rattled and were eventually broken down in the final minutes of the game. The crowd played a huge role in the Azkals’monumental win, and the players will be the first to tell you that.
5. Local Talent
8 of the 11 fielded players on Tuesday night hail from the local football league–the UFL. This just goes to show how good the league is as it keeps its players in top shape with regular heavy competition. Just like in England, where they have their local Premiere League, most if not all of their National team players come from the league. It’s a giant step forward for Philippine football—the same could not be said two or three years ago, which shows how much the team has grown. We also have so much young talent in the UAAP today, all of whom have the capability to play for the National team in the future.
4. Team Spirit
The Azkals came into the game as very heavy underdogs. The team ranks 41 places below Korea DPR in the Coca-Cola Fifa Rankings, but despite the pressure they managed to pull off a miraculous victory.
Bahadoran opened the scoring late in the first half, before the Koreans managed to seal an equalizer from a rebound inside the box right before the whistle. The Koreans secured the lead early in the second half thanks to the scrappiest of goals. The game was a rollercoaster ride for everyone involved.
In the final 6 minutes of the game, Ott sealed the equalizer from a cheeky backheel assist from Tanton. Then, in the dying seconds of the match, the whole stadium held its breath as Patino laid the ball off to the unmarked Ramsay who then smashed the ball in the back of the net. The stadium erupted, and the victory was sealed. The never say die attitude that the Azkals employed payed off in the sweetest of ways.
3. Team Depth
Stephan Schrock, Phil Younghusband, OJ Porteria, Patrick Reichelt, and Kevin Ingreso–all presumably starters for the team, were left out of the lineup due to injury. Two players made their debut for the Azkals, one being the very impressive Miguel Tanton from Kaya FC. Lacking in attack, Bahadoran stepped in admirably for Porteria and Younghusband. In midfield, Woodland and Ott combined to play a very impressive game in the absence of arguably the best player of the Azkals, Stephan Schrock. Then there was Ramsay, who stepped in for Woodland as a substitute and sealed the game in the 90th minute. All in all, the weakened team showed its character and produced the biggest win in Philippine football history.
2. Coaching Strategy
Thomas Dooley was a long-time captain of the US Men’s Soccer Team. He led the US team in the 1994 World Cup and won numerous awards during his career. He has been serving as the Philippine Azkals head coach for quite some time. The match on March 29, 2016, when the Philippines beat North Korea, was his last game. Or was it?
Coach Dooley definitely deserves a contract renewal after his brave decision making earned the Philippines its biggest win ever. Dooley’s choice to use Ramsay’s speed in the later portion of the match turned the game on its head. The Koreans were not used to the heat of Manila and were gassed out when fresh-legged Ramsay burst on to the pitch. Its decisions like these, benching talisman players and fielding debutants that puzzles fans. Coach Dooley chose to gamble and his bet payed off. We need him for the Suzuki Cup!
1. Filipino Pride
If one thing was evident on the pitch during the match, it was that every player wearing the white shirt was proudly playing for the flag on their jerseys–not for the names on their back.
Any professional player will tell you that it’s a whole different feeling when you play for the national team as opposed to playing for your club. As an analogy, Lionel Messi definitely feels more obligated and honored when he puts on his Argentina jersey as opposed to when he plays for his club, FC Barcelona. It’s the same with the Azkals. Some of our players play in Europe but made the long journey home to represent the country. The 11 men on the pitch (plus the substitutes and coaching staff) represented a nation of more than 100 million people and they deserve our utmost respect for giving us fans something we will never ever forget.