Etheridge rues missed chance in Suzuki Cup

BANGKOK, Thailand—Neil Etheridge has mixed feelings over the turn of events the past few days that saw him miss out on a flight to Bangkok to join the national side in the AFF Suzuki Cup.

The 22-year-old goalkeeper expressed his disappointment at missing the AFF Suzuki Cup here, but said getting recalled by Fulham augurs well for his club career.

“I am very upset and disappointed I’m unable to travel to Thailand,” Etheridge said in a statement. “The reasons why I’m not coming is entirely out of my hands and Fulham have decided to pull me back and be No. 2 at the club again.”

Etheridge said getting elevated to chief backup to Mark Schwarzer should serve his career in good stead. “I will learn alot from Mark. Its a great experience and a step closer at playing Premier League football,” he said.

Bristol Rovers had earlier released Etheridge, before Fulham called the Fil-British keeper up to return to Craven Cottage.

Clubs are not inclined to release players because the Suzuki Cup doesn’t fall on an international date.

“This decision was out of my hands but I will take the positives from this and work my hardest to make the Philippines proud here in England,” Etheridge said.

Without Etheridge or Muller, the 32-year-old Ed Sacapano, who was impressive in the 1-0 win over Singapore last Thursday in Cebu, could start against Thailand. The Bago City-born goalkeeper has the backing of Etheridge.

“It’s good to see him having his time although others see him as a backup,” Etheridge said of Sacapano, who saved a penalty kick against Singapore.

Sacapano shines as Azkals reward Cebu with win over Singapore

CEBU CITY – Marwin Angeles scored the game-winner, but Eduard Sacapano’s heroic efforts in goal did not go unnoticed in the Philippines’ narrow 1-0 victory over Singapore in a friendly at the Cebu City Sports Center here. 

On a night when international football rolled into the Queen City of the South for the first time, Sacapano was a virtual wall in between the posts, his first-half penalty save sparking a lively and remarkable Azkals’ performance in the final 45 minutes.

It was the final match for the Azkals’ preparations for the Suzuki Cup kicking off Nov. 24 when they meet Thailand in Bangkok. But for this football-loving city, it seemed so much more than that. 

The Azkals got a loud ovation as they entered the pitch before kickoff in another watershed moment for the sport in the country. For months, organizers led by officials of the Cebu Football Association, here had worked tirelessly for a smooth-sailing staging. People came in droves, filling up the grandstand with the crowd estimated at 7,000. 

The Azkals rewarded them with a brilliant display. 

Coming in as a substitute at halftime, Angeles struck from close range in the 54th minute for the lone goal of the match as the Azkals, with a less experienced side compared to the one that visited and beat Singapore, 2-0, last September, constantly tormented the Lions with their fluid attacking play in the second half.

With orders to push forward, Angeles, who usually operates deep at midfield, was at the right place at the right time to tuck home a misdirected shot from Patrick Reichelt, who got on the end of a Phil Younghusband cross at the far post.

Benefitting from his squad’s blistering display, Denis Wolf also had a couple of headed chances – one that was saved by Hayrulnizam Juma’at and the other just denied by the crossbar nine minutes from time.

There was solidity and composure at the backline as each and every Lions attack was thwarted with Sacapano coming up with a heroic effort. The centerback pairing of Rob Gier and Juani Guirado hardly gave the Lions’ strikers time on the ball.

The Bago City-born goalkeeper foiled a penalty from Shi Jiayi in first half stoppage time, before producing a couple of stops to deny Shahdan Sulaiman and Shaiful Esah on free kicks.

Sacapano’s performance came on the day news broke that first-choice keeper Neil Etheridge will be unavailable for the Suzuki Cup in Bangkok, Thailand from Nov. 24-30. Germany-based goalkeeper Roland Muller is also doubtful for the tournament.

 “I’m happy the boys fought so bravely, especially the man sitting next to me,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss, referring to Sacapano, at the postmatch press conference. “A draw would have been a deserved result but we will take it. This gives us a lot of confidence heading into our match against Thailand.”

 Weiss said the Armyman’s performance did not come as a surprise to him. “It was not beyond my expectations but beyond probably of other people. I know that hes made good progress the past year,” he said. “If Etheridge or Muller will come to the Suzuki Cup, it will be a big plus, but with Ed (Sacapano), we are in good hands.”  

 Even Singapore coach Raddy Avramovic was impressed with Sacapano. “I think the goalkeeper has done absolutely well. At the start of the match, I told my players that the keeper did not have much experience so we must test him but he did really well,” the veteran Serbian coach said.

 The Azkals were on the backfoot early on with the visitors probing and testing Sacapano from range, while Qui Li and Shi Jiayi worked the flanks to create openings.

 It was on the counter-attack where the Azkals looked dangerous as Denis Wolf and Patrick Reichelt – teammates at Global FC – combined well up front together with Demit Omphroy.

 Reichelt was causing the Singapore defense fits with his pace and drive and he drew an early booking from central defender Safuwan Baharudin. The Azkals struggled to create clear chances though with Wolf managing just tamed effort from a tight angle on the right in the 42nd minute just moments after Chris Greatwich sent a shot over from outside the box.

 On the other end, the Lions were having their way on an Azkals defense that sat deep with Shi, Qui Li and Khairul Amri all getting opportunities. The best of those chances came on the head of Amri, who could only shoot wide off a cross from Shi in the 30th minute.

 Underscoring the depth of his side, Weiss made three changes at halftime with Phil and James Younghusband and Marwin Angeles replacing Chieffy Caligdong, Jeff Christiaens and Greatwich.

Less than 10 minutes later, the changes paid off with Angeles’ first senior goal that sent the crowd into ruptures. 

“It was a very hard fought victory,” Weiss said. “I think the substitutes changed the match in the second half.”

 

UFL sides beef up for Cup

The United Football League field just got stronger.
With a bevy of foreign-based players beefing up first division squads, the UFL Cup main draw kicking off next month promises to be one of the most competitive yet for the fledgling league.
Air Force faces an uphill climb to defend its title with league champion Global, Kaya, Loyola Meralco and Penson Stallion acquiring new players to power their respective campaigns.
Chieffy Caligdong could be playing his final tournament for Air Force which will still have veterans Ian Araneta and Yanti Barsales.
Global lost Fil-Spanish striker Angel Guirado who moved to a club in India’s top-flight league, but kept the core of the team that won the title last year, before adding national player Denis Wolf and promising youngsters Demitrius Omphroy and Matthew Uy.
In Wolf, Global has a topnotch finisher in front of goal that already has a wealth of experience in Germany. Wolf will pair up with Izzo El-Habbib, whose ruthlessness in front of goal still makes him one of the league’s best.
Reigning player of the year Carli de Murga is also back for Global and so is the steady Yu Hoshide, whose vision and distribution was vital for the attack.
There’s so much depth in the side now with Jeff Christiaens and Patrick Reichelt also part of the team.
Lexton Moy returns for another tour of duty for Kaya, which acquired Southeast Asian Games veteran OJ Porteria, Antonio Ugarte and Sean Iliff, who impressed during the recent Kia Cup.
The Sparks, who lost in the UFL Cup finals to Air Force before finishing third in the league after a late collapse, are hoping to end a string of heartbreaks this season, with a team built around brothers Phil and James Younghusband.
The brothers will have plenty of help this time with veteran internationalists Chad Gould and Simon Greatwich joining the team that also includes Mark Hartmann and Anto Gonzalesa.
Stallion also made big off-season moves by snapping up Fil-Dutch Jason de Jong and Spanish side CF Madrid striker Rufo Sanchez and defender Joaquin Canas.
Following its sale to the group that also manages Diliman FC, newly-promoted Pachanga, led by last season’s second-division top scorer, has now join forces with some former Diliman standouts in Nathan Octavio and Jose Andoni Santos.
Green Archers United also strengthened its side by acquiring Ghanaian midfielder Ayi Nii Aryi, Lawrence Obinna and Dominic Mensah, who transferred from Nomads.
Air Force managed to add two young players to its veteran-laden side in former San Beda standouts Paul Concepcion and Neckson Leonora, who also saw action for the Under-23 side in the Southeast Asian Games.
Pasargad, which finished a strong sixth in the league last season, picked up Fil-American Josh Boone who tried out for the national side during the camp in Chicago last month.
The league is scheduled to start its qualifying stage this week, where the lower eight squads in the second division will have a twice-to-beat edge against eight new clubs. The eight first division teams as well as the Top 4 in the second division are already seeded to the main tournament that starts Oct. 2. The 20 teams will be grouped into four.

‘Azkals have enough time to work on weaknesses’

The International Football Federation (FIFA) may have nullified the 1-2 loss of the Philippines to Laos because of a technicality, but it doesn’t take away the fact that the Azkals still have plenty of work to do to be able to contend for the AFF Suzuki Cup late this year.

With 11 weeks to go before the tournament in Bangkok, where they will collide with established sides in Thailand and Vietnam, Azkals manager Dan Palami is confident that there will be enough time to work on the team’s weaknesses.

“I’m quite positive that there will be enough time for us to get ready,” Palami said as the Azkals arrived in Manila yesterday from a three-country Southeast Asian swing highlighted by a stunning 2-0 win over Singapore last Friday.

“We know that we tend to struggle against teams with much pace. We will rectify this as well as our finishing.”

The Azkals still have three more matches this month against Guam, Chinese-Taipei and Macau as they compete in the Paulino Alcantara Peace Cup from Sept. 25 to 29 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

In a report on news website Interaktv, FIFA nullified the international friendly in Vientiane last Monday because all four referees from Laos were not accredited by the world governing body.

The match, marred by a melee in the 68th minute, saw both teams finish the game with 10 men.

Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta said they have yet to recieve word from FIFA about the nullification of the match. But Araneta said the standard practice is to get referees from countries not involved in the match.

Araneta cited the fact that the Football Association of Singapore had asked permission from the PFF to tap local referees as linesmen and fourth official during the friendly last Friday.

“Laos did not ask our permission that they tapped local referees for the match,” said Araneta.

Malditas plunge into action in AFF Championship

Short on experience but never lacking in motivation, the Philippine women’s football squad hopes to make its mark in the Asean Football Federation Women’s Championships kicking off Thursday in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The Malditas are looking to improve from their performance last year, where they failed to advance from the group stage after losing to eventual champion Thailand and runner-up Myanmar.

But with better preparation and some new talent infused to the side, coach Ernie Nierras is upbeat on the Malditas’ chances.

Not one to hold back statements, Nierras said the finals will be a target for the Malditas, who came out of a two-year hiatus from international football only last year.

“If we don’t make it to the finals, we will be disappointed,” said Nierras, who left for Ho Chi Minh with the rest of the team last night. “We want to play Thailand in the finals. I think the team has progressed very well over the past year.”

The Malditas, whose first assignment will be against Myanmar on Thursday, will be armed with more than 30 games of experience under their belts in their buildup to the tournament. Their buildup included practice matches against men’s teams in Manila.

“We were able to address some of our concerns in the preparation, particularly the field,” said Nierras, whose wards are given priority in the use of the BGC Turf in Taguig.

Also in the Malditas’ group is host Vietnam and lightweight Singapore, which has never won against the Philippines.

Nierras also attributed his team’s chances to the switch of Filipino-American Heather Cooke from defender to striker. A rock at the backline, Cooke will now be utilized to use her size and drive up front to address the Malditas’ lack of goals.

“I’m hungry for goals,” said the 5-foot-9 Cooke, who anchored the backline in last year’s tournament. “It helps that I just want it. I’m not the conventional forward but I’m scrappy and I work hard.”

Among the new players in the team is Ashley O’Connor, who has taken over Cooke’s spot at the backline, while the likes of Patrice Impelido, Sam Nierras and Natasha Alquiros are also in the squad.

“I think we have an awesome chance. We have good depth in the team now,” said Cooke.”The other countries will be surprised with our team.”

Philippines stun Singapore in friendly

SINGAPORE – Playing with a spring in its step, the Philippines stunned Singapore, 2-0, Friday night in a friendly at the Jurong West Stadium here.

Goals by skipper Chieffy Caligdong and Phil Younghusband boosted the Azkals to their first victory over the Lions in recent years.

With German Bundesliga standout Stephan Schrock pulling the strings at midfield, the Filipinos struck twice on the counter-attack and put the Singaporeans to the sword.

Schrock’s brilliance, a stable defense and improved finishing from the scoreless draw against Cambodia helped the Azkals avenged their 0-2 loss in October last year.

With Schrock coming into the lineup, Azkals coach Michael Weiss made one change to the side that played Cambodia with Marwin Angeles making way for Schrock.

Singapore was without its top striker Aleksander Duric who picked up an ankle injury. Duric has scored twice in the last two meetings against the Azkals.

It was Singapore that created the first chance with Shi Jiayi testing Neil Etheridge with a low shot in the fourth minute.

But it didnt take long for Schrock to make his mark on the game.

Against the run of play, Schrock found Younghusband with a good ball on the right. Younghusband provided the return pass for Schrock to pick out Caligdong, whose classy right-footed finish in the eighth minute closely mirrored his goal against Sri Lanka last year.

Schrock was provider again for the second goal. This time he released Younghusband down the middle before the striker found the bottom corner with his left foot in the 58th minute.

The Azkals proved resolute defensively, silencing the threat posed by substitute Agu Casmir.

The Azkals fly to Vientiane on Saturday for a showdown with Laos on Monday. The team is preparing for the AFF Suzuki Cup on November.

philippines, cambodia battle to draw in friendly

PHNOM PENH – The second meeting in three years between the Philippines and Cambodia ended the same way like it was the last time: A scoreless draw.

 Ranged against a team that needs to go through qualifying for the AFF Suzuki Cup, the Azkals were unlucky not to grab a late-winner as they continued their buildup here at the National Olympic Stadium.

Phil Younghusband bungled an effort from eight yards in the 13th minute, Jason Sabio shook the crossbar with a header, before the debuting Patrick Reichelt was denied by the post six minutes from time as Cambodia survived a late Philippine onslaught under heavy downpour. “We have to see this as a test match, the first test match after a longer period so we should have won very clearly. We had chances which we didnt take advantage of. In the backline we didnt have many problems. There should be no excuse and we should have won the game,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss.

Only the outcome was similar to the last meeting between the two sides as the Azkals dictated the play this time, particularly in the second half where they carved out chance after chance despite far from ideal pitch conditions.

The Azkals got a boost earlier in the day when the penalties meted on coach Michael Weiss, manager Dan Palami and James Younghusband were suspended following an appeal.

The reprieve meant the Azkals fielded a strong, experienced side with Jerry Lucena, Paul Mulders and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge in the starting eleven along with Phil Younghusband, Chieffy Caligdong, Carli de Murga, Jason Sabio, Rob Gier and Under-23 standouts Jeff Christiaens and Marwin Angeles.

Cheered on by a buoyant crowd, Cambodia threatened early with quick passing and good movement off the ball. The final ball was missing though and the Azkals started to get into the game late in the first half.

Though Cambodia had a couple of balls into the box in the first five minutes, it was the Azkals who created the first clear chance.

James Younghusband and Paul Mulders linked up at the right flank, before the Fil-Dutch sent the ball to an unmarked Phil Younghusband who sent his effort just wide much to the relief of the home crowd. Chieffy Caligdong was also handed a great chance in the 18th minute when a long ball from James Younghusband found him in space at the middle. But he fired straight at the Cambodian keeper.

Cambodia constantly threatened on the counter with Rob Gier and Carli De Murga needing to  come away with last-ditch tackles inside the box to prevent a shot on goal.

Weiss sent in Reichelt for Lucena at halftime and Jason de Jong for Gier. Almost immediately Riechelt made his mark on the game, linking up with Phil Younghusband, before skipping past a couple of defenders only to unleash a cross beyond Caligdong.

Reichelt was lively on the right and was at it again, using a stepover to create space only to shoot low to the Cambodian keeper Su Yati.

Etheridge was steady for most of the game, but Cambodia almost cashed in on his miskick in the 63rd minute. But the Fulham keeper was lucky to get the ball back moments later.

On the other end, Denis Wolf, who came on as a substitute in the 65th minute, had a left footed effort from the area saved in the 73rd minute.

Wolf was combining well with Mulders and another run found him on the left only for his side-footed shot from a tight angle find the side netting.

 

The Azkals finished the game strongly on attack with Reichelt nearly finishing off a fine counter that started with Etheridge finding another substitute Misagh Bahadoran on the left. Bahadoran spotted Reichelt and the Fil-German beat three defenders only to be denied by the post. Aside from Reichelt, Christiaens and OJ Porteria also made their international debuts.

The match is the first of a three-country Southeast Asian swing of the team preparing for the Suzuki Cup in Bangkok in November. 

The Azkals have been grouped with powerhouses Thailand and Vietnam in the tournament, along with the top team of the qualifiers.

Azkals’ buildup continues with Cambodia duel

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Photo by ANTON SHEKER

PHNOM PENH – The Philippines’ buildup to the AFF Suzuki Cup makes a stop in this quaint city by the MekongRiver, evoking memories of the long and tough grind the Azkals went through two years ago.

The Filipinos, bracing for tougher challenges ahead, face an old foe in the Cambodians at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in an international friendly at the National Olympic Stadium here.

It will mark the first meeting between the two sides since they played to a scoreless draw in AFF Suzuki Cup Qualifying in Vientiane, Laos.

While the Azkals advanced to the main tournament because of the standoff, the Cambodians, who were the better yet unlucky side in that match, were stalled on goal difference.

“We barely survived them last time so it’s going to be interesting how far both teams have progressed since then,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami.

The Azkals, who have actually won two of the last three duels against the Cambodians, will be armed to the teeth with Europe-based Neil Etheridge, Paul Mulders and Jerry Lucena all available.

Etheridge joined the team Monday night, while Mulders and Lucena flew in on the eve of the duel. Both Mulders and Lucena were not able to train with the side.

With Ray Jonnson and Dennis Cagara unavailable, the Azkals are also short on defenders on the left side, reason why Weiss has converted Jeff Christiaens, a winger, as leftback and also brought former University of Santo Tomas standout David Basa to the three-country swing.

Basa, interestingly, got his first cap playing against Cambodia in Laos two years ago.

James Younghusband is suspended for the game by the PFF Disciplinary Committee. His appeal is now with the PFF Appeals Committee headed by lawyer Gregorio Larrazabal.

Coach Michael Weiss and Palami, who were both slapped with two-game bans for a “failure in leadership” during the incident that led to the complaint of AFC match commissioner Cristy Ramos, have also appealed their sanctions.

Nonetheless, Weiss believes his team is in good shape, after spending two weeks last month training in the United States.

“The team should be physically in a very good condition,” said Weiss, whose team will visit Singapore on Friday and Laos on Monday in Vientiane.

“I think the players have the quality to succeed in the three matches. It will be important challenges but at the end of the day what’s important is what happens in November.”

Although they have hardly created a ripple since qualifying for the main tournament of the AFF Championships in 2008, Weiss remains wary of the Cambodians.

“Cambodia playing on home soil will be very strong,” said Weiss.

In their last duel in Laos, the Azkals barely survived wave after wave of attack from the Cambodians.

There were a couple of shots denied by the frame of the goal as well as three chances that went begging with the goal at their mercy.

“I would like to think we have a better team now,” said Palami.

The Azkals won their last match against the Cambodians here in the 2008 Suzuki Cup Qualifying.

That victory however wasn’t enough as the hosts advanced because of scoring more goals for the entire qualifying stage.

“Regardless of the result, what’s important is how we play in November in Bangkok and all these matches are geared towards sharpening for the Suzuki Cup,” said Weiss.

Azkals leave for friendly matches

With suspensions on its coach and one of its key players looming, the Philippine football team leaves for Cambodia today to start a three-country swing that will gauge its progress in preparation for the AFF Suzuki Cup. 
German coach Michael Weiss will still travel with the Azkals as he files an appeal to rescind a two-match suspension meted by the Philippine Football Federation Disciplinary Committee for a “failure in leadership” during the Philippines-Malaysia friendly last February. 
James Younghusband, who skippered the team in the match, is also expected to appeal the decision that rules him out from the match against Cambodia on Wednesday.  
The committee had earlier cleared Lexton Moy and Angel Guirado from the sexual harassment complaint Football Confederation match commissioner Cristy Ramos, but still sanctioned members of the side for what it described as “breakdown in discipline” during the prematch inspection.
The decision, which actually did not sit well with Ramos, also left Weiss dumbfounded – for a different reason. 
“I don’t get the point so much because first of all the people in the locker room have been given the tasks to look after the team in case Im absent,” Weiss told the Inquirer. “We are a team that works well so there’s no necessity for the coach to be with his players all the time like a kindergarten teacher.” 
“Why I’m now being made a scapegoat I dont understand,” added the German coach. 
PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta said the Disciplinary Committee acts independently from the federation. 
Nonetheless, Weiss said not sitting on the bench for the next two games “is also not the worst thing that can happen.”
“Of course, its not an ideal situation but it will also give me a different perspective on the matches,” said Weiss, who will have lead assistant Edwin Cabalida calling the shots in case his appeal is not granted. 
The Azkals face Singapore on Friday, before flying to Vientiane to face Laos on Sept. 10.

Rob Gier arrives for Chicago camp

CHICAGO – Fil-British defender Rob Gier arrived from London Sunday night to link up with the Philippine side needing options on the backline five days before it faces U.S. Virgin Islands in an international friendly in Indianapolis.

 The Azkals are short on defenders with midfielders Jason de Jong and Jeff Christiaens moved to play in a makeshift backline in a 1-3 loss to a beefed-up Chicago Inferno team Saturday night at Joe Bean Stadium in Wheaton.

The 31-year-old Gier is one of the most experienced players in the side, having been with the Azkals in the historic run to the 2010 Suzuki Cup semifinals as well as the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup.

 

Gier’s presence is expected to shore up the Azkals defense which conceded three goals in 32 minutes – a deficit that proved too difficult to overcome even after a solid showing in the second half.

 

“I’m here to do my usual job, maybe be a steadying ship at the back and communicate with the players,” said Gier. “We want to make sure we keep improving and ensure that things are right come November.”

 

Gier was referring to the 2012 Suzuki Cup where the Azkals have been marked as among the darkhorses after their steady improvement since their semifinal finish a couple of years ago.

 

The veteran defender couldn’t come earlier to the camp in the Windy City as he still played for Ascot United in an English FA Cup qualifying round game.

 

Gier took the loss to the Inferno in stride, saying what matters is the Azkals are getting the preparation they need for more important matches ahead.

 

“I know everyone wants us to win every game, but it’s a very experimental side plus the team has been on a break,” said Gier.

 

“It may take a while for everything to jell back together to get us playing. I wouldn’t read too much into the loss. Hopefully we’ll perform a lot better, but if it doesn’t go as planned, its not the end of the world because its still part of the preparation.”

 

The Inferno actually fielded a stronger lineup than the one that currently plays in the Premier Development League with some players flying in from different parts of the United States and Brazil to beef up the side that tested the Azkals.

 

Azkals coach Michael Weiss handed senior team debuts to Matthew Uy, who looked steady at central midfield pairing up with Chris Greatwich, and Demetrius Omphroy, who came on as a halftime substitute and was involved in the only goal scored by Carli de Murga.

A standout from California who has played for the youth teams of Panama and the United States, Omphroy looked lively on the right flank.

 

Patrick Reichelt, OJ Porteria and Marvin Angeles also came in as substitutes with Reichelt making an impact, assisting on De Murga’s goal in the 71st minute.