For those watching the 2014 PFF Peace Cup Finals tomorrow live at the Rizal Memorial Stadium or on the telly, here are 3 things to look out for in the game (plus a WILDCARD!).
The Dooley Effect
Azkals Head Coach Thomas Dooley has been quick to stamp his imprint on the Philippine National Team. Dooley’s trotted out some unconventional line-ups in his brief time with the squad, often to great effect. In the Azkals’ tune-up match against UFL bigwigs Global FC, Dooley sent out the troops in an aggressive 3-5-2 formation, generating excited (and nervous) discussion amongst the Azkals faithful. The Philippines’ blowout victory over Chinese Taipei also featured two interesting positional shifts, as the Azkals’ head honcho paired winger James Younghusband with Phil upfront. Furthermore, Dooley shunted Kaya FC attacking midfielder Kenshiro Daniels all the way to right fullback. The radical tinkering did pay off though, as James Younghusband notched a goal from the forward slot, and Daniels acquitted himself well in his new role. It’ll be interesting to see what tricks the Azkals’ boss will pull out of his sleeve in the final.
The Burmese Messi
While not a household name, ardent followers of the Azkals will be wary of one Burmese player in particular. Myanmar’s 21 year old number 10, Kyaw Ko Ko, will be the focal point of the White Angels’ attack. The Burmese superstar’s fancy footwork and creativity have caught the eye of football fanatics across the region, earning him the moniker “Burmese Messi”. Such is Kyaw Ko Ko’s talent that even foreign clubs have sniffed around for his services. In 2012, Nurnberg FC of Germany’s world-famous Bundesliga invited a 19-year old Kyaw Ko Ko to a trial at the club. Alas, a concrete offer never materialized, but that does not in any way diminish the threat Kyaw Ko Ko poses. His skill was on full display in Myanmar’s opening 4-1 demolition of Challenge Cup champions Palestine, where Kyaw Ko Ko set up two goals for his side. Kyaw Ko Ko’s second assist drew audible gasps from the crowd, which included the Chinese Taipei squad. The human highlight reel deftly flicked the ball over two defenders before beating two more with a lightning quick run, setting up Nanda Lin Kyaw Chit with a precise pass. The shifty forward is prone to roaming across a fluid Burmese frontline, and every single member of the Azkals’ defense will have to be on full alert to deal with Kyaw Ko Ko.
Youth in Revolution
Head Coach Thomas Dooley has not been afraid to hand responsibility over to the more junior members of the Azkals. The 22 year-old Mark Hartmann, the UFL’s leading scorer, drew the most praise following his 2 goals in 20 minutes against Chinese Taipei, but a host of other young Azkals have been making waves as well. Three 19 year-olds (Amani Aguinaldo, Kenshiro Daniels and Daisuke Sato) started at the back for the Philippines against the Formosans, and it will be telling if Dooley trusts that same inexperienced backline in the Finals clash with the wily Burmese. Young guns OJ Porteria and UE superstar Fitch Arboleda are in the Azkals squad as well, but their participation in the final match is a lot more unlikely than that of their defensive-minded counterparts. 22 year-old Manny Ott will also be a player to watch, as, in the absence of the mutinous Stephen Shrock, Dooley handed the keys to the midfield to the Ceres FC star. The Philippines’ supporters will probably get a tantalizing glimpse of the Azkals’ future this Saturday night.
Ultras Filipinas or Ubos Filipinos?
While the Azkals put on a footballing clinic in their demolition of Chinese Taipei, the crowd failed to materialize. The bleachers were mostly empty despite the reduction of ticket prices, and the grandstands were barely half full. The 7pm kick-off for the match was admittedly a bit early for a weekday game, and the recent rainy weather probably scared off some prospective supporters, but the pathetic turnout was still depressing. The one bright side for the under-appreciated Azkals was the presence of the football-crazy Ultras Filipinas, who serenaded the Philippine National Team with chants and cheers for the entirety of the rain-drenched match. Will the Azkals get more support on a Saturday or will they again be playing in front of an empty Rizal Memorial Stadium?