Without looking at the scoreboard, Michael Weiss still saw enough positives on Tuesday night to bolster his belief that the Azkals’ progress is on the right track.
“The result may be disappointing, which I can understand, but we have to see it more from a longer perspective,” said the German coach after the Azkals had to come back from a goal down twice and salvage a 2-2 draw with Indonesia while playing with nine men.
“Compliment to my team because they fought back even with nine men against 10 and still managed to get the draw,” Weiss added.
The entertaining and often ill-tempered friendly was supposed to be a testament of how far the Azkals have gone since they first caught the nation’s fancy in the 2010 Suzuki Cup, where their dream run was halted by the Indons, 2-0, in the semifinals.
But with Weiss experimenting with a new-look side and the visitors making the most of their only real scoring chances in the match, the Azkals had to scramble in the second half to save face before a huge crowd that braved the rain at the Rizal Stadium.
Weiss, though, preached patience as he maintained that the Azkals, for all their fame and stature, remain a work in progress.
“To change a team will take not only one year. It takes normally three to five years,” said Weiss, whose team was coming off a scoreless draw in another friendly against Asian neighbor Malaysia last week.
“We want to go away from just defending to playing more offensive football. We have a very good base defensively. We have a big potential offensively and it’s just a matter of time when we get things together.
“We’re on the right track.”
The crowd had expected nothing less than a win from the Azkals, and rightfully so. The home side, now three rungs above the Indons in the world rankings at No. 148, was at full strength while the visitors were without several key players.
Weiss, however, rung the changes by inserting homegrown Marwin Angeles and Dennis Cagara into his starting eleven and the Azkals clearly groped for form in the first half – their best scoring chance an Angel Guirado header that bounced off the top post.
“We are using this opportunity (friendlies) to test several options, players, and formations,” explained Weiss.
It was not until the second half, when James and Phil Younghusband came off the substitutes’ bench for the first time in their international careers along with Jerry Lucena and Fulham back-up 'keeper Neil Etheridge, that the match started to come alive.
Three goals were scored in a span of three minutes. Patrick Wanggai gave Indonesia the lead in the 58th minute, James Younghusband tied it one minute later, before Indonesian skipper Irfan Bachdim caught the Azkals’ defense napping again in the 61st minute.
“They caught us twice on the break—very clinical finishing with three, four passes. I think that after James’ equalizer, if they had not scored their second goal so quickly, we would’ve gone more into domination and creating chances,” Weiss said.
The situation looked bleaker for the Azkals in the 80th minute when a shoving match led to three red cards, two on Azkals captain Chieffy Caligdong and Manny Ott.
But Phil Younghusband rose to the occasion just as he had done in so many Azkals matches, snatching the equalizer in the 84th minute.
Younghusband later echoed Weiss’ sentiments, pointing out that so unlike two years ago the Azkals had dominated possession against the Indons and made the more clear-cut chances – reasons enough to be optimistic about the future.
“I think if you’ve seen our game in 2010 against Indonesia, it was the other way around. They were having more possessions and we were playing more defensive,” said the Philippines’ all-time leading scorer in internationals.
“I think you saw today how much we’ve grown since that time. We’re in control of the ball, we’re dictating the tempo.”