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Into the Abyss: Philippines vs North Korea Survival Kit

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By Lorenzo del Carmen and Brian Lance Tamayao

The Philippine Azkals shall resume their 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign against North Korea in Pyongyang later tonight

The Azkals’ next opponent, North Korea, is currently top of Group H with nine points, having won all three of their games so far. One of these games, the away game vs Yemen, was granted to North Korea as a 0-3 forfeit after it was discovered that the Yemeni fielded an ineligible player. North Korea would have still won the match as the original score was 0-1 in favor to them.

The succeeding game of North Korea was a 4-2 home win against Uzbekistan. Prior to the match, the previous encounter between these two countries was a 1-0 Uzbekistan win in the AFC Asian Cup 2015 which was held in Australia. Seeking revenge on home soil, the North Koreans attained a 4-0 lead at half-time.

An away trip to Bahrain then followed for North Korea in the campaign. The North Koreans won the gritty affair, 0-1, with a goal coming from substitute Il-Gwan Jong. Prior to the loss to Uzbekistan, the Azkals dispatched West Asian foes from Bahrain and Yemen.

Barring any injuries or any unforeseen circumstances, North Korea’s goalkeeper and back four are bound to be the same. Goalkeeper Myong-Guk Ri and defenders Kuk-Chol Kang, Kuk-Chol Jang, Hak-Su Ro and Hyon-Jin Sim haven’t missed a single minute of North Korea’s 2018 World Cup Qualifying matches. Only two goals have been conceded so far by North Korea’s defense in their two matches played. Kuk-Chol Jang and Hak-Su Ro have contributed more than their defensive responsibilities by scoring a goal each in the qualifiers.

In terms of their midfield, four midfielders clock in heavy minutes for North Korea. These midfielders are Chol-Myong Ri, Yong-Chol Ri, Yong-Jik Ri and Hyon-Uk So. Only Hyon-Uk So has scored so far from the midfielders. The implication of this is that the North Koreans are organized with a four man midfield in mind and two strikers.

On the offensive end, one of North Korean football’s finest exports should not be ignored. Kwang-Ryong Pak plies his trade for Swiss Challenge League side Biel-Benne and already has a goal for his team in the current Qualifying Campaign. Alongside him is Hyok-Chol Ri, who also scored a goal in the East Asians’ first three games of qualification. Their partnership will be greeted with caution, but the tricky part about the North Koreans is that no player has scored more than once so far. Nonetheless, a lot shall be expected of their forwards who have the capability to test the Philippine back line. Both aforementioned strikers have already scored, so confidence is definitely not an issue for them. Another threat who usually comes off the bench is striker Il-Gwan Jong, who himself has also scored once for North Korea in their bid to return to the World Cup.

Azkals Group Photo

Compared to their opponents, the Azkals have six points after winning two games out of three. The one loss suffered by the Azkals was the 1-5 home debacle against Uzbekistan. Having said that, the Azkals are approaching the match in Pyongyang with the urgency to respond from their first setback in the Qualifiers. The return of Rob Gier and the frailty of playing three at the back against Uzbekistan may see a shift in the formation on Thursday.

Looking at the 22-man roster, however, may suggest that Dooley will stick to the 3-5-2 formation. Half of the squad composes of midfielders. It can be inferred that the Azkals may have four or five players playing in the middle of the park with a solid back three and a strike partnership up front. Should this be the case, a familiar face could be reinstated in the attacking third.

Phil Younghusband may have to play as a striker or in a supporting capacity as a number 10. The veteran plays naturally as a forward and admits that it is where he is most comfortable in, so there should be no problem with him featuring ahead of the pack. Other candidates to lead the line are Misagh Bahadoran, Stephan Schröck, and Iain Ramsay.

Bahadoran has been having a great year so far and has proven it with two goals scored in three Qualifying matches. Meanwhile, Schröck and Ramsay may be the Azkals’ top prospects along the wings. Both players have had their moments in the campaign so far and it would be highly interesting to see what they could do together on the pitch. Armed with pace and creativity, Schröck and Ramsay would be something the North Koreans have prepared for.

There is a contest for a spot or two in central midfield, depending on the formation to be used. Regardless of how many, the player(s) deployed here should be able to make the team tick. Based on previous performances, the Azkals rely on possession to create chances and dictate the pace of the game. Guys like Manny Ott, Paul Mulders, Patrick Reichelt, and Martin Steuble are viable candidates for the position, having played a lot there for Ceres-La Salle. Steuble, in his stint with the national team, is usually deployed along the flanks so maybe the other guys could be given a chance to tandem with Ott should Younghusband be given the striker role.

Regarding the defensive shape of the Azkals may grab the attention of some fans. Would Dooley stick with having a three-man back line shielded by two wingbacks in a 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation or would he shift to a conventional four-man back row? While we can only guess, the return of Gier might imply a center back partnership with either Luke Woodland or Amani Aguinaldo. Daisuke Sato and Jerry Lucena have been stable presences on the side and it would be surprising to see a change on those areas. Neil Etheridge looks likely to redeem himself in front of goal, but his backup goalkeepers Roland Müller and Patrick Deyto aren’t really poor choices as well.

A lot of how the Philippines should play against North Korea depends on the formation Dooley will select. If he opts to use the tested 3-5-2, the Filipinos should do well in keeping the ball while gradually opening spaces to operate in the attacking third. That has been the motif in their wins so far. Meanwhile, in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 lineup, the Azkals may also find comfort moving forward knowing that there are more people behind to defend. Hence, it will be less prone to swift counter attacking plays the opponents may employ.

It is safe to say that the home side would not want to sit back so our defensive organization needs to be sharp no matter how many defensive players we’ll be fielding. Playing in a hostile, partisan crowd with no huge Filipino presence is a first for the Azkals in a long time, so staying focused has never been very important. A huge emphasis may also be placed in starting strong as their opponents can capitalize should they begin the match in a similar manner they did against Uzbekistan.

The goal is to always take home points, but in the context of qualification, it appears to be a must for the Azkals. Winning may be a daunting task so perhaps not losing should be the least they could afford in the next two rough away games.

The World Cup dream may have been dented, but it is certainly still within reach. The next step is in North Korea, and just like the unfamiliar part of the Korean peninsula, the Filipinos have never been this close to achieving a goal before. They have the chance to make waves in Asian football just like what they have done in recent years, and it is definitely something the Azkals will be looking forward to do once more.

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Basketball

After getting first D-League experience, Zark’s-Lyceum ready to get loose

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After a hesitant performance in their PBA D-League debut last Thursday that resulted in a loss to the Marinerong Pilipino Skippers, the Zark’s Burger-Lyceum Jawbreakers seemingly caught up with the league’s style of play on Tuesday.

Zark’s-Lyceum displayed their true form and stamped their class all over the Batangas-EAC Generals with a 37-point destruction, 112-75 — so far the biggest winning margin the franchise has ever had in its D-League history.

“Medyo adjusted na kami on everything — the calls and the teams we’re playing against with,” said Zark’s-Lyceum head coach Topex Robinson after the match at Pasig Sports Center. “But the things we want to mind are those things we control.

“We just have to keep on doing what we are doing. It’s more on replenishing na lang on our old ways.”

Robinson’s claim was strongly backed up by the numbers that the Jawbreakers produced.

CJ Perez had 21 points and 10 rebounds. MJ Ayaay produced 15 points and 10 boards, and Mike Nzeusseu delivered 14 markers and 11 boards.

Even the bench made their presence felt in the victory. With guard Jaycee Marcelino spearheading the supporting cast’s charge with 12 markers, the bench contributed a remarkable 56 points to their total output.

Photo by PBA Images

“Ano lang, cinontrol lang namin yung pace kasi yun naman talaga yung laro namin, yung mabilisan,” said the 24-year-old do-it-all forward, who also collected three steals.

“Kailangan talaga mabilisan para ma-execute namin yung mga ginagawa namin.”

This week will be a rough one for the Pirates, as they will play right away this Thursday against the AMA Online Education. And for Perez, he strongly believes that they will be able to carry over their momentum.

“Oo. Nandun pa. Energy talaga yung puhunan namin para makalaro ng maayos.”

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Basketball

Bonbon Batiller shows what he can bring to Letran in D-League debut

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Photo by PBA Images

Tuesday proved to be a double debut for Bonbon Batiller. Aside from beginning his first foray in the PBA D-League, it also marked his debut for the Letran Knights, who are carrying the Wang’s Basketball Couriers franchise.

And the 5-foot-11 guard showed what he can bring to the table. Batiller collected 15 points, five rebounds, and three assists to help the Knights raise the curtains of their campaign with a 93-75 rout of the Batangas-EAC Generals.

“Nagworkout yung pinagpraktisan namin,” said Batiller. “Nagbunga rin yung tinuro samin ni Coach Jeff (Napa) lalo sa depensa. Tsaka siguro sa rebounds — laking lamang namin sa rebound. Nagsipag mga bigs namin.”

But what has him even more satisfied is the warm reception and trust he’s had from the Knights, even if he has spent barely a year with them after transferring from University of the East last 2017.

“Masaya po kasi tinanggap nila ako sa Letran ng buong-buo,” said Batiller, who normed 10.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.6 steals with UE in two years. “Tsaka yung tiwala nila na makakatulong ako sa team nandoon.

“Kaya masaya ako sa pinakita nila sa akin.”

That is why the General Santos native is hard-pressed to prove himself to Letran, saying that he’s all about giving back to the school that gave him another opportunity to resume his young, up-and-coming basketball career.

“Kailangan kong may mapatunayan na deserving ako sa binigay na second chance sa akin ni Letran,” said Batiller, who decided to switch schools partly due to academic reasons.

“Malaki ang utang ko sa Letran.”

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Football

Bienvenido Maranon scores brace as Ceres-Negros eliminates Brisbane Roar

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Photo from the-AFC.com

Philippine club football just achieved its biggest continental result yet

The inaugural Philippines Football League champions Ceres-Negros Football Club eliminated three-time Australian champions Brisbane Roar in the 2018 AFC Champions League’s second preliminary round with a 3-2 stunner, away at the QSAC Stadium in Brisbane.

With the win, the 2017 AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal Champions are set to face Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian next January 30, 2018 at the Haihe Educational Football Stadium in Tianjin, China, to book a seat in the group stages.

Brisbane were the favorites for this tie and it showed, as Ceres started the contest on the back foot. Italian striker Massimo Maccarone handed the home side the lead in the 35th minute when he turned in Brett Holman’s pass.

Maccarone’s goal could have lowered the Busmen’s moral, but Risto Vidakovic’s men took it as a motivation rather than a downer. In fact, Ceres replied in the best way possible when Bienvenido Maranon scored his first goal of the match two minutes from halftime, thanks to a scramble in the Brisbane box.

By all accounts, Ceres had already made Philippine football proud at halftime. By this stage last year, Brisbane had accrued a 4-0 halftime cushion against Global Cebu en route to a 6-0 rout.

Today, though, Brisbane faced tougher resistance at Ceres’ hands. That resistance turned into a full-fledged revolt in the 65th minute when Maranon directed the ball past a helpless Jamie Young to give the Busmen their first taste of the lead.

Maranon’s goal well and truly turned the tide in Ceres’ favor. Brisbane were stunned. The home side are the defending A-League champions, but are currently eighth in the table this season and would soon face elimination from Asia’s premier club competition.

Already up 2-1, the Busmen finally achieved some breathing room in the 75th minute when Omid Nazari scored from close range to give Ceres a two-goal cushion over Brisbane.

Nazari’s goal not only sealed the win for Ceres, it also propelled Philippine football into the big leagues. Not even a late goal from French midfielder Éric Bauthéac could prevent the Busmen’s victory.

After five minutes of stoppage time, Ceres emerged 3-2 winners against Brisbane Roar. Come what may against Tianjin seven days from now, the Busmen have already achieved Philippine football’s biggest result since their own achievement in last season’s AFC Cup.

Who knows? Maybe Ceres can pull off another upset?

Ceres-Negros XI: Doblas (GK), Super, Mike Ott, Ingreso, Maranon, Porteria, Schrock, De Murga (C), Munoz, Nazari, Christaens.

Brisbane Roar XI: Ingham, Bowles, Papadopoulos, Maccarone, Holman, Khalfallah, Oxborrow, McKay (C), Hingert, Young (GK), Franjic.

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EAC

CJ Perez, Zark’s-Lyceum vent ire on Batangas-EAC with 37-point romp

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Photo by PBA Images

CJ Perez and the Zark’s Burger-Lyceum Jawbreakers finally lived up to their hype, as they clobbered the Batangas-EAC Generals to score a 37-point beatdown, 112-75 for their first win, Tuesday at the Pasig Sports Center.

It was an all-out attack from the Jawbreakers, as they beat the Generals to the bite and took control of the game early, with Mike Nzeusseu and Jaycee Marcelino guiding their side to the 48-33 lead at halftime which they would never surrender.

Perez paced Zark’s Burger-Lyceum with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while MJ Ayaay tallied a double-double with his 15 markers, 10 boards, and three assists.

Cameroonian student-athlete Nzeusseu also delivered 14 points, 11 rebounds, and two assists. Marcelino had eight first half points and wound up with 12 off the bench, as the reserves chipped in 56 huge points in the tussle.

Coach Topex Robinson lauded the Jawbreakers for quickly adjusting to the style of the PBA D-League just days after falling to the Marinerong Pilipino, 92-94, back in opening day.

“Medyo adjusted na kami on everything — the calls and the teams were playing against with. But the things we want to mind are those things we control. We just have to keep on doing what we are doing. It’s more on replenishing na lang on our old ways,” he said.

Earvin Mendoza and Cedric de Joya both had 16 points for the Generals in the losing effort.

Zark’s-Lyceum look to continue to roll when they face the AMA Online Education Titans on Thursday, January 25. EAC-Batangas, on the other hand, take on the Gamboa-St. Clare Coffee Lovers on Monday, January 29.

The Scores:

Zark’s-Lyceum 112 — Perez 21, Ayaay 15, Nzeusseu 14, Jc. Marcelino 12, Serrano 10, Baltazar 8, Santos 8, Jv. Marcelino 6, Tansingco 6, Marata 4, Liwag 4, Ibañez 2, Cinco 2, Pretta 0.

Batangas-EAC 75 — E. Mendoza 16, De Joya 16, Tampoc 12, Laude 9, Pate 8, Maguliano 6, Altamirano 5, Diego 3, Garcia 0, Dela Peña 0, Martin 0, J. Mendoza 0, Neri 0.

Quarterscores: 19-14, 48-33, 84-47, 112-75.

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