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AFF Suzuki Cup 2014: Philippine Azkals Primer

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The Destination: Hanoi for the Philippines and two other teams who arrive in the Vietnamese capital with the target of becoming the region’s football champions.

The last time the Philippines were in Hanoi was in 2010. They emerged undefeated in three games of the group stages, drew twice versus Myanmar and then Singapore, and scored a huge upset win against hosts and then- defending champions Vietnam. Making it to the semi-finals since then, the Philippines come into this year’s AFF Suzuki Cup with an ultimate goal: Win it all.

After a shocking 2-3 extra time defeat to Myanmar in the 2014 Philippine Peace Cup two months ago, Azkals Coach Thomas Dooley and his lads have set their sights to the biennial regional football tournament. It marked the team’s second finals loss under Dooley. “I hate losing in the last two times we are in the finals. I want to get the team back in the finals, and definitely win that one,” said Dooley, who also masterminded the Philippines’ runners-up finish in the AFC Challenge Cup last May.

Renewed approach

Photo by Zeke Alonzo

Photo by Zeke Alonzo

En route to this weekend’s opening match against Laos, the Azkals featured in four friendly fixtures. They tallied three wins in their last four games, scoring a total of 11 unanswered goals against Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Cambodia. Their frailties in defense were exposed, however, when they suffered a 0-3 beating at the hands of regional powerhouse Thailand just less than a fortnight ago.

Looking at the bigger picture, the Azkals performed well under Dooley’s tutelage. The Filipinos won seven of their 12 games while only losing three games so far in the calendar year. Within that 1080 minutes of action, the Azkals scored a total of 25 goals and allowed only 11 in the process. Dooley’s winning record is considered a sign of progress for a team that has been slowly but surely moving towards the possession brand of football from a defensive, counter-attack kind of football that has produced its share of glorious moments.

With possession football, the Azkals had more opportunities to score goals. This was evident in their friendly match with Azerbaijan where they dictated much of the action in the second half. They pummeled the Azerbaijani defense with a flurry of goalscoring chances, only to be denied by a sturdy Azerbaijan backline that is constantly pitted against high-calibre European frontlines. It was also the team’s main weapon under Dooley, particularly in the Challenge Cup where the Azkals controlled much of the games they played before falling narrowly, 0-1, to Palestine in the final.

Holding ground

Defense has been the bread and butter of the Philippines in international competitions and the Suzuki Cup is not an exception. The Azkals only conceded six goals in their last 10 matches in the tournament, registering five clean sheets in the process. What has been a problem for the Azkals that neither Simon McMenemy nor Hans Michael Weiß has figured out successfully is increasing the Filipinos’ activity in their attacking third. In the same timetable as stated at the beginning of the paragraph, the Azkals only found the back of the net seven times and all of them came in the group stages. Should the Azkals be more proficient in front of goal, success is not far from reach for the Filipinos.

Perhaps the lineup change the Azkals have undergone will be under scrutiny by most of the viewing public. Just four players from the 2010 edition of the Suzuki Cup return to Hanoi where they reignited the status of football that has been dormant since the American occupation. They are the Younghusband brothers Phil and James, Chris Greatwich, and Rob Gier. Apart from the four players who have joined the squad since then, merely five other players have earned their places back from two years ago’s lineup. Most fans look at the departure of experienced players this year as a concern going forward as Dooley sought to establish a core heavily based locally–a move that has drawn mixed reactions from the supporters and critics of the team.

Photo by Zeke Alonzo

Photo by Zeke Alonzo

The Philippines, tagged as the dark horses of this tournament, have etched history in the last two editions of the Suzuki Cup. 2010 marked the first time that the Filipinos reached the semifinals. In 2012, after making it back to the semifinals, the Philippines hosted the first leg of the semifinals against Singapore. Two years before that, the Azkals were deprived of hosting a home leg because of infrastructure problems.

A Whole New Perspective

This time around, expectations are as high as it was low back in 2010 and the years before that. Back where it all began, the Philippines would have to hurdle past Laos, Indonesia, and Vietnam to present their fans back home another chance to witness their players take a shot at glory.

Laos, once the nemesis of the Filipinos in the qualifying rounds for the regional tournament, remain a threat to the Philippines who only defeated the Laotians once-although that happened most recently in the Challenge Cup. It is worth noting that Laos had a say to the previous tournaments’ semifinalists. In 2010, they drew with Thailand, and with Indonesia two years after that. Both teams missed the semifinals when Laos, a team they normally wallop, shared points with them. With the Philippines believed to have soared further above Laos, the Laotians are liking their chances of making a huge dent to the aspirations of the Azkals. The Filipinos are aware and should take zero chances of not giving their all versus Laos.

Indonesia is another team that would rekindle nostalgia to the survivors of 2010 as they were the squad that dashed the Azkals’ hope of a happy ending with a couple of 1-0 wins in the semifinals. Last but not the least, Vietnam come to this tournament with the hopes of ending the Philippines’ two-game winning run against them at the same ground where the Filipinos redefined their place in ASEAN football. Against two traditional powers of Southeast Asian football, the Filipinos need to be more assertive than before for them to have a chance of going all the way.

Every game is as important as the other and one slip often spells the difference between success and failure. Before, success for the Filipinos is to go home with at least a draw. Now is a clear manifestation of how times have changed as most people would probably be unhappy should the Philippines fail to get past the group stages.

Achieving a good result in the Challenge Cup is seen as no less than a positive indication of what lies ahead in the Suzuki Cup. However, there is no room for comfort for a side that has yet to prove its winning pedigree in the region. Myanmar and Thailand, the team labeled by many as the favorites to win this tournament, have shown that it will take a lot for the Filipinos to maintain, if not exceed, their status in ASEAN football. After all, that is the challenge the Philippines are facing now. They got out of the cellar four years ago, they proved their seriousness of contending for the title a couple of years back. As much as it was unbelievable to think that the Philippines will win the Suzuki Cup in its earlier editions, the notion that the Azkals will rewrite their history by etching the name ‘Philippines’ on the Suzuki Cup trophy is now greeted with seriousness not only in the 7,107-island nation as people from seven other ASEAN countries have taken notice.

PYH5

With that said, all eyes will be on the Azkals, both in and out of the country, with everyone curious about their ability to stay on the region’s upper echelon. Teams like Vietnam and Indonesia are seeking to claim their top level status from the Philippines who have made the semifinals twice while they languished in the group stage last time around. Myanmar and Laos, too, are teams that are on a mission to leapfrog the Philippines as they have done before. While all those have been plotted, the Philippines also have one thing in their minds: Win it all.

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Basketball

Marc Pingris wants Rafi Reavis to break Robert Jaworski’s record

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Marc Pingris was all praises for veteran Rafi Reavis Saturday night, as the 40-year-old center made his presence felt in the Magnolia Hotshots’ 97-91 victory — their third straight win — over Phoenix Fuel Masters at the Cuneta Astrodome.

The six-foot-nine Reavis finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks — a performance perfectly punctuated by a follow-up of a Paul Lee miss with 12.5 seconds left to play that knocked out the Fuel Masters for good.

“Papasalamat ako kay Rafi na talagang kababalik lang niya pero binigay niya talaga lahat,” said Pingris after the bout, as Saturday night was just Reavis’ second outing in the 2018 Philippine Cup after recovering from a hip injury.

“Nag-usap nga kami kanina e, hindi pa siya 100 percent. So bukas, ang sabi niya babalik daw siya sa gym dahil gusto niya ibalik yung lakas ng legs dahil wala pa daw,” added the 36-year-old, who also suffered a hip injury last season.

Reavis has been playing in the league for 16 years. Seeing the work he has put in, Pingris, who finished the game with 17 rebounds, four assists, four points and two blocks, believes that the 10-time PBA champion can play for 10 more years — at least.

“You know naman Rafi eh, katulad ko rin yan eh – rebound and depensa. At tsaka sobrang vocal siya sa team eh,” beamed Pingris, who himself is a 14-year veteran. “Walang siyang inaano, talagang sinasabihan niya kung sino yung mga nagmi-mistake, kung paano kami mag-adjust, so nakikinig naman lahat sa kanya.

“Talagang nandun yung respeto namin kay Rafi.”

And if Reavis stays healthy for the next decade, Pingris wants Reavis to exceed Jaworki’s 958 games played — third most all time.

“Nasa kanya yun, basta kaya mo ba eh. As a player, kung masipag ka naman at may disiplina sa sarili mo, kaya niya yun.”

Still, Reavis has a lot of catching up to do.

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JRU

Altas surge to fifth straight win, slam Heavy Bombers

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Pulling double-digit scoring outings from three spikers, the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA Altas remained unbeaten in NCAA Season 93 after a straight-set triumph over thr Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers, 25-17, 25-16, 25-20, at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

Middle blocker Ronniel Rosales topped the Altas with 13 points off 10 attacks and three blocks. Team captain Rey Taneo and Joebert Almodiel added 12 markers apiece.

The Altas dominated every scoring category, recording 44 attacks to JRU’s 26, five blocks to the Bombers’ zero, and three aces to JRU’s one.

Breezing through the first half of the season, Altas head coach Sammy Acaylar lauded his team’s consistency and hoped they continue getting better as they aim for a championship.

“So far, masasabi kong maganda ang nilalaro ng mga bata. Consistent naman ang mga galaw nila and focused sila sa mga laban,” said Acaylar.

“Pero alam nilang may ibubuga pa sila. We still need to get better and reach the championship level. Kailangan hindi mawala ‘yung ganito naming killer instinct,” the decorated mentor added.

The Altas take on a major test on Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre when they face fellow undefeated squad Arellano Chiefs (4-0).

Wenjo Lahaylahay led the Bombers with 10 points while captain Patrick Rabaja managed seven.

JRU (0-5) limps into their Wednesday showdown against defending champs College of Saint Benilde (3-1).

The Scores

UPHSD (3) – Rosales 13, Almodiel 12, Taneo R. 12, Muhali 7, Ramos 5, Atentar 1, Catipay 1, Salo 1, Bation 0, Solamilo 0, Taneo S. 0, Kalingking (L)

JRU (0) – Lahaylahay 10, Rabaja 7, Sulivas 6, Salazar 4, Cebrero 1, Soriano 1, Cruz 0, Ferwelo 0, Defensor (L), Flor (L)

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Mixed Martial Arts

Rene Catalan continues rampage with TKO win

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Rene Catalan continues to turn critics into believers

Filipino fighter Rene Catalan made his sixth appearance inside the ONE Championship cage at ONE: Kings of Courage, held at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia, Saturday evening. He faced 21-year-old Chinese athlete Peng Xue Wen in the opening main card bout, and leaned on his elite wushu skills to stop the young star at the 4:22 mark of the second round.

The victory improves Catalan’s record to 4-2 (1 NC), extends his winning streak to four, and gives him the first TKO stoppage of his martial arts career, as he bids to climb the strawweight ladder in search of the ONE Strawweight World Championship.

“The Challenger” came out in the southpaw stance to open the bout, throwing big hooks and a head kick that narrowly missed as he established the center of the cage from the start of the contest.

The Filipino landed a host of powerful strikes, including a perfectly-placed uppercut and a melee of punishing leg kicks, but Peng’s conditioning and composure kept him in the match as he looked to stand and trade with the man 18 years his elder.

Catalan picked up where he left off when the bout resumed in the second round, this time operating out of the orthodox stance, landing more leg kicks and continuing to deny Peng any space to work.

Despite his dominance on the feet, there was a brief moment of concern for the Filipino on the mat when he jumped into the Chinese wrestler’s guard mid-way through the second round, and immediately found himself in a triangle choke. But the Filipino kept his composure and managed to work himself free.

Once the fighters returned to their feet, Catalan poured on the pressure in search of a finish, and he got it with just 38 seconds remaining in the stanza.

“The Challenger” scored big with a liver shot, then unloaded a fierce flurry of punches that forced Peng onto his back foot. Another shot forced Peng to the mat, where a salvo of ground and pound from Catalan eventually forced the TKO stoppage as referee Olivier Coste stepped in to halt the contest.

Photo, story, and video from ONE Championship

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Basketball

Gelo Alolino regrets Phoenix’s failure to close out Hotshots

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Photo by PBA Images

Gelo Alolino had his best game for the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Saturday night at the Cuneta Astrodome with 19 points, eclipsing his previous career-high of 16 markers which he made last May 21, 2017 in a loss to the Mahindra Floodbuster.

But his achievement won’t be too memorable, as it went for naught following a 91-97 defeat at the hands of Paul Lee and the Magnolia Hotshots, who have now collected their third straight victory.

For the second overall pick in the regular 2016 Rookie Draft, it was all because of their failure to sustain momentum up until the game’s final buzzer.

“Sayang, nandun na. We felt na sa amin na nung dulo kaso lang ganun talaga,” rued the 24-year-old sophomore after the match, where he shot an excellent 7-of-10 from the floor.

“Breaks of the game napunta sa kabila.”

Phoenix were in contention all throughout the match. In fact, they were even ahead, 89-84, with just three minutes left to play. But the Hotshots’ comeback skills were unleashed, leading to the narrow win.

“Siyempre kami lahat nasayangan. Maganda naman yung team effort talaga namin,” admitted the 6-foot floor general of their end-game collapse, which wasted their efforts in assists (21) and on defense, where they forced Magnolia to 21 turnovers.

“Kami as players talagang gusto namin bumawi coming from a loss last game sa Rain or Shine.

The Fuel Masters have now lost their second straight outing and have dropped to 2-3. And for Alolino, all they have to do is learn as much as they can from this loss, especially now that they are about to face the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel next.

“Yun nga. Medyo masakit para sa’min ‘to,” admitted the National University product.

“All we have to do is magviview ulit kami ng tape para makita kung saan kami mas pwede mag-improve as a team and bawat isa — including me.”

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