Normally when a team wins 3-0 in football, coaches and players will pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
However, after the Philippine Azkals routed Guam in their penultimate fixture of the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, tensions were high amongst members of the team despite the result that sealed their place in the next qualification round of the continental tourney.
“Tactically, in the first half, our center-backs were too deep and so when you’re too deep, you drag your wing-backs deep and then you have no width up front,” explained coach Scott Cooper. “You end up having to put balls into feet and then players have too many (opposition) players around them. You just can’t get moving.
“Our wing-backs weren’t going as high as they’ve been doing in training. Our center-backs have got to get into possession and go high with the ball so we can force the play higher and we didn’t do that. It was repeating the same action that we hadn’t been seeing on the training ground and for whatever reason, it just backfired on us a little bit.”
The 50-year-old instructor felt that his players weren’t that good in the first half notwithstanding Angel Guirado’s fine opening goal.
He did feel that the Filipinos played better in the second half but there was still one particular aspect of their play that dismayed- him.
“I think we just lacked the composure to score more goals and that’s disappointing for me.”
Azkals skipper Stephan Schrock was visibly livid moments after the referee blew his final whistle. An inquest then happened within the team to find out why individual levels of play dropped and what tweaks can be done strategically to improve for the next game and beyond that.
On paper, the Philippines already had a successful qualification campaign as it reached its current points tally of 10 in one game less compared to the same stage five years ago when the Azkals persevered to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
But the team letting its standards drop is a mortal sin that provoked strong emotions from Cooper and some of the senior players in the locker room.
“The players knew what they were gonna get from me, that’s why,” said the Sheffield, England, native. “They know me well enough to know my standards are high and I expect the same of them. So winning 3-0 is a good result… but the performance has many things that are alarming and concerning.
“It says a lot for a team… We won 3-0, we matched the same result that Syria had, the same result in goal difference that we had away, we’ve secured third place in the group, we’ve equaled the best points tally an Azkals team’s already ever had, we know we’re going to get a pot 1 seed now in the Asian Cup, yet the players I’ve just told them, ‘Show me by your actions that we are not satisfied with that and that we’re gonna come back, react in the next training sessions and the next games’.”
Thankfully, there is one last match in the current round that can show the Azkals heeded these lessons to heart.
The Philippines ends its 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign against the Maldives on Tuesday at the Sharjah Stadium in UAE and only a win alongside a better performance will do.
“It’s wonderful in a way that I can see players disappointed in a changing room when you’ve won an international game 3-0. I think it speaks volumes for what we’re expecting from ourselves in Filipino football,” he expressed.
“Going forward, it bodes well because we’re setting the standards high and that’s what is important to us.”