Philippines' World Cup hopes take another hit with Yemen loss
The Philippines' hopes of progression to the next round of AFC 2018 World Cup qualifying all but ended Thursday night as they slumped to an embarrassing 1-0 home defeat to Yemen. An 83rd-minute goal from substitute Ahmed Al Sarori condemned the Philippines to their second straight loss.
The home side were punished for their inability to convert chances, and the in-form Ebrahim Ali Ayash performed well in the Yemen goal.
Here are three thoughts from the Manila defeat.
1. Azkals got what they deserved
Painful as it is to admit, this was a game that Philippines deserved to lose.
Coach Thomas Dooley described it as "a game that we have to win," yet the Azkals came out flat in the first half, playing with a deplorable lack of urgency which is required in games of this magnitude.
The second half saw a more spirited side take the field, with the team creating more chances to break the deadlock. However, Yemen remained stalwart and a late goal was just reward for their efforts.
Dooley readily admitted to his team's shortcomings. "In the first half, we dropped too deep," he said. "The combinations on the field were not there."
Make no bones about it, the manner of the defeat raises a lot of questions. The players and the coaching staff must take a good look at themselves and take full responsibility for the defeat.
2. Dooley must rethink using Schrock and Ott in midfield
With Phil Younghusband suspended, Stephan Schrock took the central midfield position, together with Manny Ott. With the two dynamos side-by-side on the field, great things were expected.
However, as the minutes ticked away, the Schrock-Ott midfield combination looked flawed and unsound. Both players are too similar, fond of taking many touches on the ball and dribbling, instead of passing quickly to involve the wings.
As a result, Iain Ramsay and Patrick Reichelt were starved of the ball. When they did have possession, Yemen's defence had settled to close the gaps. Both are also attack-minded players, and their natural instincts are to push forward, leaving the back three open to quick counters or forcing wingbacks to cover, exposing the flanks.
This results in a narrow Azkals formation, which is easier for a compact and conservative team such as Yemen to defend.
3. Priority should now be 2019 Asian Cup qualification
With hopes of further progression on the road to Russia 2018 all but gone, the Azkals' focus should now be firmly and squarely on ensuring qualification directly to the third round of 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying.
To do so, the Azkals need results against the top two nations in the group, North Korea and Uzbekistan. It is a massive task, but not impossible for a team who have all the potential, yet have massively underperformed over the past four match days.
The euphoria from the victories in the first two matches now seems like a distant memory. Where is the Azkals outfit who won 2-1 against Bahrain at home in June? The onus now is on the team to rekindle that spirit, bringing joy and hope back to hardcore fans and the greater Philippines' sporting public.
Defeat is part and parcel of football, but to lose limply in a must-win game at home against the bottom side in Group H is simply unacceptable.
Manila-based Ryan Fenix is football columnist for Sports5 Philippines and analyst for InterAksyon.com. He is also a FIFA Ballon d'Or juror.