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RAMPAGING FULLBACK | 5 things we learned from the Azkals’ rousing win over Yemen:

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The Philippine national men’s football team’s impressive start to its 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers campaign continued with a lively 2-0 victory over Yemen Wednesday morning in Manila.

Hoping to sustain momentum from the impressive 2-1 win over Bahrain, the Azkals made two changes to its starting lineup — Misagh Bahadoran coming in for the injured Stephan Schrock and Luke Woodland finally making his debut after getting clearance from FIFA.

An entertaining first half saw both teams unable to take their chances, as it ended 0-0 after 45 minutes, with Manny Ott closest to breaking the deadlock at the 37th minute.

Another remarkable second half performance from the Azkals would see them take a 2-0 lead after 74 minutes to see off the Yemeni challenge, with Man of the Match Misagh Bahadoran and Iain Ramsay getting on the score sheet.

After two matches, the Azkals lie in second place in Group H, just behind early leaders North Korea on goal difference.
Here are five things we learned from the Azkals victory.

1. Misagh Bahadoran is on fire

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Two goals from two games are not bad returns by any means for a striker, but for someone like Misagh who has been consistently inconsistent the past few seasons, those two goals against Bahrain and Yemen must have felt like cold water on a hot Manila day.

Once dubbed derisively as “Lord Misagh” when he struggled to put in a good shift for the national team, Bahadoran has now become nothing short of a cult icon among fans.

The Man of the Match performance against Yemen has everybody drooling over his form –– and has everybody queuing up LGR offices for a #9 Lord Misagh Azkals shirt.

Schrock’s injury has gone largely unnoticed and is due in large part to the Global FC team captain who has shown tremendous improvement and maturity in recent months.

2. Javier Patino is not just ‘Patigol,’ he is also ‘Pati-assist’

InterAksyon.com/Ver Marquez

That Azkals striker Javier Patiño can score goals in bundles has never been in doubt; fans have seen him score for his club teams Buriram United and Henan Jiaye.

That Patiño can also dish out quality assists was perhaps not something most fans were aware of. Against Yemen, he not only displayed his usual attacking verve to lead the attack but also showed fans another dimension of his game by giving out two passes that led to two Azkals goals.

At the 52nd minute, he combined with Bahadoran who unleashed an unstoppable shot. At the 74th minute, a very quick Azkals counterattack saw Patiño break on the right side. The Filipino-Spanish quickly found the onrushing Iain Ramsay for the Azkals’ second goal.

3. Azkals not relying just on Phil Younghusband

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The days of Phil Younghusband carrying the scoring workload all of the Azkals by himself seem to be over.

The return of Javier Patiño to assume the No. 9 role has allowed Younghusband to drop deeper in midfield, where he can cut a more influential figure on the pitch.

The emergence of Bahadoran and Rmsay has eased the burden on the Azkals’ all-time leading goal scorer — Phil can still bang in the goals, but now he has more help.

The last two Azkals victories came with Younghusband not needing to be on the score sheet. If anything, it bodes well for Philippine football that the team is getting more help in the scoring department.

4. Spare a thought for Yemen

The Philippines can certainly relate.

Very much like the Azkals in the 2010 Suzuki Cup, Yemen has been forced to play their home matches away from their capital city of Sana’a but for totally different reasons.

War in the country has entailed that Yemen play their home matches in Doha, Qatar which is normally a two hour plane ride away. With turmoil in the region, the team was forced to forego air travel and had to ride a boat.

The Indian Express writes: “With the country involved in a bloody war with Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s national team head Husam Al Sanabani said they were left with no other option but to travel by sea.”

“It’s a treacherous stretch of water that has already been braved by thousands since the war began. But the long detour meant they first had to undertake the 13-hour boat journey to Djibouti, followed by a five-hour flight from the tiny African nation to Doha.”

“We had three options. Flights were not possible as the airports are shut. It was unsafe to cross the border by road as there is constant firing. So the only option left for us was to travel by sea. It was a dangerous route and the players were brave enough to accept our suggestion,” Yemen national team head Husam Al Sanabani said as quoted by the Indian Express.

To make matters worse, they have no idea how they will return to their homeland. After all that Yemen has been through, it is already a minor miracle that they are able to play and compete on the field.

All of these factors make Yemen a dangerous side to come up against, with the extra motivation they certainly have to perform.

The Azkals came away with a 2-0 victory, but look to find most neutrals rooting for Yemen if turmoil there remains unresolved.

5. New guys did well for the Azkals

Somewhat lost in all the excitement about Bahadoran and Patiño were the Azkals debuts of Iain Ramsay, Stephen Palla, Luke Woodland, Dennis Villanueva and Kevin Ingreso.

Ramsay took over the number 7 shirt from James Younghusband and did justice to the shirt as he capped off a brilliant display with his first international goal for the team.

Palla is listed as a defender, but he was given a more forward role for the Azkals as he ably supported the attack.

Woodland’s clearance papers came through in time for the game against Yemen. And on the field the 19-year-old was as good as advertised, putting in a solid performance at centerback in a three man defense.

Villanueva’s excellent performances for club side Global FC were rewarded with a call-up to the national while Ingreso made his much-awaited debut, albeit with time winding down on the clock.

It will not be our last time to see these new faces; many hope they will represent the country for a long time to come.

Ryan Fenix is InterAksyon.com’s resident football analyst. His football column Rampaging Fullback appears exclusively on the site. He runs the football blog The Prawn Sandwich Brigade and covers football for Sports5. For more football discussion, follow him on Twitter. http://j.mp/1IQkG3g

Azkals sparkplug Misagh Bahadoran happy to finally score 1st international goal:

InterAksyon.com/Ver Marquez

Philippine national men’s football team veteran Misagh Bahadoran has always been known as a sparkplug for the Azkals, always providing the energy and added bite on the midfield whenever his name is called.

But an international goal had been elusive for him. That changed on Thursday night when he scored a goal in the Azkals’ 2-1 win over Bahrain in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

“I’m happy that I scored my first international goal against Bahrain,” Bahadoran said.

He could have finished with a hat trick, actually, if not for two misses. His attempt at the 59th minute was foiled by the Bahrain defense, only to be saved by Javier Patino who made a rebound goal.

Bahadoran also attempted a nice header at the 75th minute which just went wide off the post.

“He could have scored three goals today,” Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said.

With his contributions, it is surprising to know that Bahadoran wasn’t even on the field when the match started. He only subbed in midway through the first half when Azkals star Stephan Schrock left the game with a knee injury.

The accidental lineup shuffle paid off for the Azkals as Bahadoran scored the opening goal at the 50th minute after flicking in a one-footed shot off a Phil Younghusband cross from the left flank.

“It was a fantastic ball by Phil, he closed very well. He saw my movement especially Patino he brought the defender with him which gave me a bigger space for me to score,” Bahadoran said.

Dooley praised Bahadoran’s will to help the squad despite finding himself coming off the bench instead of as a starter.

“Misagh came in, he lost his starting position obviously. But he came with the desire and did an excellent job,” Dooley said.

“That was a spark for us.”

With Schrock likely to miss the Azkals’ next match against Yemen, Bahadoran is expected to fill the gap following an impressive performance.

Bahadoran is glad to earn Dooley’s trust.

“I’m so happy that coach trusted me to put in the big game after Schrock (got injured),” Bahadoran said. http://j.mp/1IyvkeV

Rampaging Fullback: Dissecting the Azkals’ historic win over Bahrain in FIFA World Cup qualifiers:

InterAksyon.com/Ver Marquez

On the eve of the country’s 117th Independence Day, the Philippines national men’s football team took to the field parading what is touted to be its ‘best team ever.’

The occasion would be the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, which doubles as the 2019 Asian Cup Qualifiers.

The opposition would come in Bahrain, a team the Azkals have never previously beaten and ranked 21 places above in the FIFA rankings.

A host of new names reinforced the Azkals, namely Iain Ramsay (formerly of Melbourne City), Luke Woodland and Stephen Palla (Wolfsberger AC). Javier Patino, Neil Etherdige and Stephan Schrock also returned to the line-up to add more firepower.

Preparation, however, was far from ideal as potential friendlies between other teams were cancelled and the Azkals had to make do instead with a friendly with a select UFL squad.

First half struggle

InterAksyon.com/Ver Marquez

In the first half, the lack of match practice showed, even as Azkals coach Thomas Dooley fielded his new 3-4-3 system which saw Daisuke Sato, Rob Gier and Jerry Lucena at the back in front of Neil Etheridge.

Phil Younghusband was deployed in the quarterback role and he was at the heart of every Azkals move. Patino was supported by Ramsay and Schrock up front, while Martin Steuble and Palla commandeered the wings.

Even with the star names, the Azkals struggled in the early stages of the game.

The defense looked uncomfortable as Bahrain pumped high balls over the backline for the defenders to chase — the Azkals’ lack of pace at the back exposed for everyone to see. On many occasions, the defense was as disorganized as the cheers of the cheering squads in attendance.

The Azkals attack looked blunt and disjointed with the midfield unable to link up with the front three. Things went from bad to worse as Schrock had to come off at the 22nd minute, making way for Misagh Bahadoran.

Yet, it was 0-0 at the half.

Phil at the heart of attack

InterAksyon.com/Ver Marquez

Whatever the half-time team talk was, it worked well for the Azkals as a dizzying 10-minute spell saw the Philippines take an incredible 2-0 lead against Bahrain.

Azkals captain Younghusband, clearly relishing his new role, proved that he can pass as well as he can score, providing the assist to Misagh Bahadoran for his — and the Azkals’ — first goal of the game.

Bahadoran and Patino’s time

InterAksyon.com/Ver Marquez

Let’s spare a thought for Misagh.

Derided by fans for his occasional frustrating display on the field — head down and taking on the defenders only to lose the ball or dribbling too long instead of making the pass — his inability to put the ball at the back of the net has led to fans derisively calling him “Lord Misagh.”

After his stellar performance versus Bahrain which saw him almost net a brace had his free header been on target, there can be no doubt that when fans call him ‘Lord Misagh’, it is now meant in the most positive way.

How about Patino?

InterAksyon.com/Ver Marquez

Absent in previous Azkals tournaments, fans have questioned the Henan Jianye hitman’s commitment, even going as far as saying he only got his Filipino passport to be eligible to play in the Asian Leagues as an AFC Player.

Against Bahrain, Patino showed us what we have been missing. A true number nine, his presence at the tip of the Azkals attack allowed Phil Younghusband to turn as a provider — a role that he has thrived in for club Loyola Meralco Sparks.

The Azkals have to learn from the last-minute goal that they conceded, giving Bahrain a glimmer of hope. Etheridge will no doubt had a word with his teammates; it was an unnecessary goal to concede where the Azkals seemed to switch off.

Crowd could be louder

InterAksyon.com/Karl Decena

Finally, a word on the Philippine Sports Stadium.

It is a fantastic stadium, but greater efforts must be exerted to ensure that at least three-fourths of it is full for a World Cup qualifying match. To see large swathes of empty seats is disappointing, especially with the Azkals at full strength.

An attendance of 6,000 fans — while a positive step on a weekday with no immediate public transport access — is a far cry from the 25,000 the stadium can hold.

Greater effort must also be exerted to synchronize the several booster squads in attendance. Two sets of drums sitting close together and each going their separate beat not only smacks of lack of coordination, it is annoying and an assault to the senses.

The Ultras Filipinas make tremendous noise throughout the game, but the cavernous nature of the stadium makes it difficult for them to be heard on the other side. It is hoped, yet again, that all groups band together to create an intimidating atmosphere, wherever the home game will be played.

Yemen away is up next and the Azkals, even without Schrock, will be in a confident mood. Victory against Bahrain is history; the Azkals need to channel all efforts to ensure we get another famous victory. http://j.mp/1IEA1E2

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These guys!! #UltrasFilipinas #PHIvsBHR #WCQ #Azkals

#Repost @iainramsay_7 with @repostapp.
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Great way to kick off our World Cup Qualifiers with 2 wins. Very happy start to my international career and I’m blessed to be part of a great squad of players. My debut and first goal will be something I will always remember. Honoured to be an azkal 🇵🇭 #azkals #wcq #russia2018 #pinoypride

Azkals star Stephan Schrock has knee injury, likely to miss team’s next FIFA World Cup qualifiers match:

InterAksyon.com/Ver Marquez

Philippine national men’s football team star midfielder Stephan Schrock is facing a spell on the sidelines as he injured his knee during the Azkals’ 2-1 win over Bahrain in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers on Thursday night.

At the 24th minute, Schrock had to leave the match as went down on the field in pain.

Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said that he doesn’t expect the Filipino-German to return to the squad for their match against Yemen on June 16.

“I think it’s the ligament inside his knee. We’ll have an MRI tonight so we will find out tomorrow, but I’m pretty sure that he wont be able to play next week,” Dooley said.

Schrock’s injury, however, paved the way for the entry of sparkplug Misagh Bahadoran who provided energy off the bench. He opened the scoring at the 50th minute and became a vital part of the team’s attacks in the second half that helped them grab the win over Bahrain.

The win against Bahrain was Schrock’s first match with the Azkals since reconciling with Dooley following their ugly rift last year. http://j.mp/1IyvkeN

Still high from that win!!!!! ANG GANDA NG PSS!!!! Iba talaga yung thrill pag live nanood. Sana next game puno na yung stadium. Ganda pagmasdan eh. At ang sarap sa pandinig nung UP Drummers. Feeling ko nasa UAAP game ako! Sana lahat ng drummers ng schools nandun pag may game. #UltrasFilipinas, THE BEST KAYO!!! Kahit ang layo ko sa inyo dinig na dinig pa din. Boys, good game! Worth it ang pagod bumyahe! 👍👏👏👏 #PHIvsBHR #WCQ #Azkals

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Yesterday night, 16th of June, 2015, we went to see Azkals play against the Yemen team.

Despite the hot weather, we were still able to enjoy watching, cheering, shouting, and laughing. The audience was so loud! It was full of kabayans. The attendance was approximately 5,200 people present.

Congrats, Azkals! 2-0! You make us proud!

I didn’t get to touch Misagh’s hand. I’m gonna cryyyyyy. Younghusband went shirtless and threw his jersey in the crowd. 😂 Those lucky people!