By Roy Moore, InterAKTV
With two goals in the second half, Chieffy Caligdong towed the Philippine national men’s football team to a victory over Macau Tuesday night at the 2011 Long Teng Cup. Showing his quality, the winger from Iloilo lifted the team by the scruff of its neck to ensure that the Azkals leave the competition with a victory, improving on last year’s haul with five points in three games.
Caligdong’s goals powered the Philippines to a second place finish in the competition, after Hong Kong surprisingly recorded the biggest victory of the tournament against Taiwan in the final game, destroying the hosts, 6-0. With Taiwan falling apart, Hong Kong was able to retain its title with seven points. The Philippines finished with five points after a win and two draws, while Taiwan had four points. Macau finished at the bottom after losing three games, as it did last year.
In the match against Macau, Caligdong entered the match as a substitute in the second half to the roar of the crowd, before making an immediate impact when he cut inside after a trademark dribble on the wing to strike the ball against the post.
Clearly showing his attacking intent, Azkals coach Hans Michael Weiss pushed his team further forward and switched the formation, with Caligdong playing as a striker for much of the half. The tactical change paid dividends when a Mark Hartmann free-kick found Caligdong unmarked at the back post, and the Iloilo native finished the rebound in the 58th minute after the Macanese goalkeeper Ho Man Fai made a good first save.
The Azkals hoped that the floodgates would open, but were only able to manage one more goal. It was Caligdong who killed the game off in the 87th minute, with Hartmann again providing the assist with a chipped through ball. Taking the pass on his chest, Caligdong set himself to drill the ball low into the right hand corner.
Caligdong could have had a hat trick if not for blazing over from only a few yards out, when Phil Younghusband played him in during injury time. But with four goals, Caligdong came away with the tournament’s Golden Boot award, an honor for the top scorer of the competition.
The Azkals were missing Angel Guirado, who was out due to suspension. The creative spark in the middle of the field fell to Hartmann, who surprisingly started — and played 90 minutes — a day after getting benched and being involved in a Twitter controversy. Weiss’ diplomacy and mind games seemed effective, as the Filipino-Briton Hartmann went on to assist on both of Caligdong’s goals.
First half woes
Early in the match, the Azkals bombarded Macau’s goal, but only managed to fashion one clear-cut chance. With 71 percent of the possession, the Azkals were clearly the dominant force, but building up the play from the back, they opted for too many long balls.
The best chance of the first half fell to Ian Araneta, after a bursting run and delicate through-ball from Jerry Christiaens on the 28th minute. But Araneta, the top scorer for the Philippines in last year’s Long Teng Cup, failed to open his account this time around, as he saw his shot tipped round the post by a fine save from Macau keeper Ho Man Fai.
Macau threatened late in the half after Leong Ka-hang was sent through and shot for the first time just outside the area, only to watch his shot shave the crossbar.
Phil Younghusband frequently drifted wide, and the new signee of the Loyola Meralco Sparks FC was able beat the defense cross into the box. But with only Araneta to aim for, Macau’s center back were able to cope with the aerial threat.
Young guns steps up
While the overall feeling will be one of slight frustration, as the Azkals failed to hit top gear and the dream of winning the Long Teng Cup faded, there are certainly positives to take from the game. The performances of 22-year-old Neckson Leonora, 21-year-old Jason De Jong and 23-year-old Roland Müller will give great hope for the Philippine side in the upcoming Under-23 tournament at the SEA games.
But it was 20-year-old Jeffrey Christiaens’ performance that stood out most. With some great skill flicking the ball past several defenders and beating his marker on numerous occasions, he provided the best chance of the first half to Araneta while constantly offering a threat on the left wing.
Prior to the game, Christiaens has earned comparisons to Caligdong, although the Fil-Belgian’s skill differs in offering a fluid passing and moving style with more technically skilled tricks, compared to the dynamic, raw speed of the veteran internationalist.
But the presence of the two men could certainly give the Philippines wings who offer distinctly dangerous threats on the flanks.
With only two defeats in the last ten games, the Philippines go into the friendlies against Singapore and Nepal with the strongest team it has ever had in recent generations. Though this was the Azkals’ first win in five games, the team remains a difficult force to beat with five draws and three wins in the last ten games, only losing to highly-ranked Kuwait.
With Stephan Schrock, Dennis Cagara, Jerry Lucena, Ray Jonsson and Manny Ott returning to action, the Philippines will be on full display against Singapore. Speaking for the last year of the potential of the Azkals, the team now has an opportunity to turn that into reality, as it looks to advance and become challengers in Southeast Asia. Against three-time Suzuki Cup champions Singapore on October 7, the Azkals could do just that.
Chieffy Caligdong receives his Golden Boot trophy for the Long Teng Cup. Photo credit to PinoyFootball.com/Craig Burrows