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Moving forward: Phil Younghusband talks about the Azkals and the World Cup Qualifiers

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There were plenty of changes that marked the Philippine men’s national football team’s road to Russia 2018 and UAE 2019, leading towards the FIFA World Cup and the Asian Cup, respectively. For once, the qualification format of these two major football events was changed. The first two stages of the 2015-2016 qualification matches are for both competitions, with group winners getting an automatic berth for 2019 and advancing to the third round for 2018. The group pooling format guaranteed the Azkals eight matches, four of which will be played at home.

Changes rolled on to the team as well: midfielder Stephan Schröck and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge settled their differences with coach Thomas Dooley and returned to the folds of the squad, the non-inclusion of James Younghusband, and of course, the influx of new blood with overseas-based talents such as Iain Ramsay, Kevin Ingreso, Stephan Palla, and Luke Woodland. All of these boded well for the Azkals in their first two matches of the qualifiers against Bahrain and Yemen.

In an exclusive interview, appointed Azkals captain Philip Younghusband shared that the team really wanted to get two good results to kick off their campaign. “We knew we have good guys and we’re doing a new formation. [but] We have confidence in our team that we could get two wins, and the plan worked,” he said. The entry of the new guys led Coach Dooley to mix it up in terms of their tactics on the field, leading to some changes in the positions of the players, most notable of which is his own plight in the center midfield from being the team’s striker. The Nationals’ top scorer expressed, “There are a few players that are not playing in their natural positions, but we got players that can adapt, I think that’s good.” Younghusband also expressed that as long as they get want they want, he felt that his team will be comfortable whichever position they are in.

Armed with such tactical adjustments, Coach Dooley always reminds his wards to make sure they understand their jobs. According to Younghusband, the mentor also ensures that the players are tactically ready. Equipped with such preparation, the team expected the results they had in their previous outings. Their captain cited, “As I said, we have confidence in our players, in our team; and if we want to reach our goal, which is to qualify into the next stage, so it is important that we win these first two games.” The midfielder emphasized the importance of winning the matches against Bahrain and Yemen, because they still have Uzbekistan and North Korea in their schedule. He added, “Have we dropped points in those two games, it would have been more difficult. These two results give us more confidence knowing we have to fight two very difficult teams.”

It was not a dream start for the Azkals, however, when they walked away with the full points off of two second half goals by Misagh Bahadoran and Javier Patiño, but they conceded a goal in injury time. When asked about this, Younghusband shared, “We knew 2-0 would have been a good result and we would be happy with that, but it was disappointing to concede the last goal.” He further explained that no matter how big the lead, you don’t want to allow your opponent a goal. The skipper assumedly attributes the late Bahraini goal to a lack of concentration on their part as they were up by two goals.

However, as they progressed into the group stage matches, the Philippine team got the hang of things, the most impressive of which was their adjustment to a new formation by Coach Dooley. Younghusband agreed that this will be their most positive attribute going forward. He expressed that, “It is not easy to learn a formation within such a short period of time. The team’s done well, the coaches have done well.” The long-time internationalist added that all over the world, it takes teams months and months to learn formations, but the squad got the wins despite adopting a new formation in just ten days – a testament to the quality of players we call the Azkals at present. Ten days – with the new players coming in, and individual club duties for some players like Younghusband, Bahadoran, and Patiño – to get everyone in the same page.

With talent to adjust to tactical changes and skills, Younghusband praised his new teammates, Ramsay and Palla, who have been both pivotal in the first two matches. The younger Younghusband said, “You can see the difference they made and the made the team stronger and it gives you more confidence knowing you have these players on your team.”

Despite the two wins, Phil believes that they need to keep on doing what they’re doing in order to get similar results against the capable Uzbeks and North Koreans. Younghusband believes, “The more we train, the more we understand our roles in the team and our positions.” He also added that the team should not be complacent, instead take this confidence into the next games.

The road is far from over and the end is not yet in sight, but with arguably the best side assemble named Azkals, the future looks bright. The dreams and hopes of the nation rest on the broad shoulders of these gentlemen. Two down, six more to go – at the end of it all – hopefully a first-ever stint in the AFC Asian Cup, or even more importantly, FIFA World Cup, has been booked.

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Grew to appreciate various sports from tennis to judo. True-maroon kiddo since the new millennium. Fanboy. Singer. Occasional sports writer.

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2 Comments
  • Erasmo Mallillin

    Maintain confidence, keep team spirit going, play for country and fans, train hard and develop advance skills and keep fit are the INGREDIENTS that will make the road to Russia in 2018.

    • Aeron Valderrama

      Indeed sir.

ABL

AJ Mandani sparks Singapore in win over Joshua Munzon-led Westsports

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Back to his role as the sixth man of the Slingers after two games, AJ Mandani provided the firepower needed by Singapore in a fourth quarter surge to stop the Westsports Malaysia Dragons, 93-85, Sunday afternoon at the MABA Stadium in Malaysia.

The win arrested the Slingers’ two-game losing streak, raising their slate to 6-6. Westsports, a team coming off a two-game winning streak that included a 91-87 win over Mikey Williams and the Saigon Heat last January 18, fell to 3-5.

Struggling in the first three quarters, Mandani six of his eight points in the final frame. And those points were povital in fending off Westsports.

With Singapore clinging to a solitary point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Filipino-Canadian scored four straight points 8-0 run to gain a 74-67 lead with under seven minutes left. Another basket by Mandani followed it up with a breakaway layup with with 5:18 remaining to give Singapore an 81-72 cushion.

Filipino exports Joshua Munzon and Patrick Cabahug tried to rally the home team back as a triple by the latter cut the lead down to just three with 1:40 on the clock. Big buckets by Delvin Goh and Chris Charles sealed off the Malaysia-based club team.

Munzon went just 5-for-18 from the field to finish with 15 points, seven rebounds, and three steals. Cabahug chipped in eight points on 3-for-4 shooting off the bench.

Xavier Alexander led Singapore with 33 points while Charles tallied a double-double with 25 points and 13 rebounds to go along with three swats. Singaporean Goh had 16 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.

Marcus Marshall paced Westsports with 22 points, playing all 40 minutes as fellow World Import AJ West had a tough outing.

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AU

Impervious Lady Chiefs stay perfect after sweep of Lady Pirates

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The Arellano University Lady Chiefs extended their winning streak to 17, dating back to last season, after clobbering the Lyceum of the Philippines Lady Pirates, 25-16, 25-17, 25-11, at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

The defending champions were unrelenting, with four Lady Chiefs scoring in double-digits. Rookie Necole Ebuen powered in 11 points. Third-year open hitter Regine Arocha and Arellano’s middle blockers Mary Anne Esguerra and Andrea Marzan each provided 10 markers.

Conversely, no Lady Pirate managed to score in double-figures.

“Maganda naman talaga ang nilalaro ng mga bata. Lahat kasi kami determinado na makakuha ulet ng championship. Alam nila (Lady Chiefs) na kailangan pataas nang pataas ang ginagalaw namin,” said Arellano head coach Obet Javier.

The Lady Chiefs also limited their errors to a season-best 16, while the Lady Pirates surrendered 24 miscues.

Christine Miralles and Monica Sevilla each supplied the struggling Lyceum with eight point apiece.

The Lady Chiefs will look for their sixth win of the season when they face the red-hot University of Perpetual Help System DALTA (4-1) on Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre. The Lady Pirates (1-4) take on the undefeated San Beda College (4-0) on Wednesday also at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

The Scores

AU (3) – Ebuen 11, Arocha 10, Esguerra 10, Marzan 10, Prado 3, Ramirez 3, Liu 2, Balanoba 1, Donato 1, Verutiao 0, Buemia (L), Flores (L)

LPU (0) – Miralles 8, Sevilla 8, Juanilla 7, Patio 4, Genova 1, Romanban 0, Bongabong 0, Marcella (L)

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Basketball

Late whistle costs San Beda against Sousse, drops Red Lions to 0-2

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23 for 2023 cadet Robert Bolick is averaging 27.5 points per game in the tournament

After struggling to close out the UAE National Team in their opener last Friday, the San Beda College Red Lions figured in a late judgment call that did not fall into their favor, Saturday at the Shabab Al Ahli Club in Dubai. Due to this, the defending NCAA Champions lost to Tuniasian club team Sousse, 78-79.

With the loss, the Red Lions fell to a 0-2 hole in the 29th Dubai Basketball Championship. But the record does not reflect how the Filipinos played.

Robert Bolick, who scored 28 points against the UAE National Team, led the charge for San Beda in their second outing with 27 points. Fellow 23 for 2023 cadet Javee Mocon added 11 points and seven rebounds.

Sousse — the second-best club team in Tunisia, who boasts four national team players and an American import — led by as much as 10 points, 70-60 in the final frame.

Fired up by the Filipinos who stormed the venue, the Red Lions answered right back with an 18-8 run capped by a booming Bolick triple with six ticks left to gain a 78-76 lead.

However, a foul was called on a Red Lion on a three-point attempt by a Sousse player. He calmly sank all three free throws with 1.5 seconds remaining to seal the win.

Donald Tankoua had eight points and 13 rebounds as he was saddled with foul trouble all throughout the game.

The Tunisian club team was paced by Radzhouane Slimane with 18 points, while Ibrahim Nadarri and Joshua Cassady had 13 markers each.

San Beda will have a one-day break before taking on Moroccan club team Al Sale on Monday, January 22.

The Scores:

San Beda 78 – Bolick 27, Mocon 11, Tankoua 8, Noah 8, Toba 6, Soberano 6, Prebitero 4, Tongco 4, Bahio 2, Carino 2, Oftana 0, Adamos 0.

Sousse 79 – Slimane 18, Naddari 13, Cassady 13, Mouhli 11, Knioua 9, Toumi 8, Monastiri 4, Gaddour 3.

Quarterscores: 23-17, 36-39, 57-62, 78-79.

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JRU

Perpetual overpowers JRU to keep pace for Final Four

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Strutting their decisive height and power advantage, the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA Lady Altas slammed the Jose Rizal University Lady Bombers, 25-21, 22-25, 25-14, 25-21, at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

The Lady Altas were still heavy-handed with their errors, surrendering 35 miscues, including 12 in the second set — the only frame they lost.

The Las Piñas-based program, however, kept a scorching offensive pace, bombarding the Lady Bombers with six blocks and 12 aces. JRU had just five points combined from those categories.

“Mataas pa talaga ‘yung tendency ng mga bata mamigay ng mga puntos. Sabi ko nga hindi kami mananalo kung tutulungan pa namin ‘yung kalaban maka-score,” rued Perpetual head coach Michael Cariño.

“Pero, unti-unte namang gumaganda ‘yung galaw ng mga bata. Lahat naman ng pagkukulang nila, tinatrabaho namin para maayos sa ensayo,” the champion mentor added.

Perpetual’s six-foot-three middle blocker Lourdes Clemente towered over the Lady Bombers with a season-high 19 points which included 14 attacks, two blocks, and three aces. Winger Cindy Imbo added 15 points.

Rookie Dolly Versoza paced the Lady Bombers with a game-high 21 points, while captain Shola Alvarez managed 15.

The Lady Altas (4-1) take on the undefeated defending champs Arellano University (5-0) on Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre. The Lady Bombers (2-3) face the College of Saint Benilde (3-1) on Wednesday, also at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

The Scores

UPHSD (3) – Clemente 19, Imbo 15, Sangalang 8, Llorente 7, Tripoli 7, Gual 6, Versoza 2, Umandal 1, Estanislao 0, Medalla (L)

JRU (1) – Versoza 21, Alvarez 15, Ebuenga 5, Montojo 2, Rivera 2, Sibangan 1, Bodiongan 0, Macaraya (L)

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