Azkals 1, Vietnam 0. Postgame thoughts from an epic win

Caligdong exults at the final whistle. Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

BANGKOK- Another chapter is added to the legend of Chieffy Caligdong. One of the biggest knocks I had with Chieffy Caligdong is that yes, he has scored plenty of International goals (the one against Vietnam was his sixteenth if I am not mistaken) but virtually all of them have been against weak teams. After his goal against Thailand in the 2004 Tiger Cup his only goals against stiff opposition have been the two against Hong Kong last year and the freakish, mound-aided looper in Singapore earlier this year.

The rest of his strikes were against the cannon fodder of world Football, the likes of Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Brunei, Timor Leste, and so on and so forth. Some wondered if he could still deliver in a big game against a tough squad.

Since 2004 he had never scored in the final stage of the AFF Championship, which is what these group stage plus the semis and finals are called.

Those doubts were laid to rest in an unforgettable night in Bangkok. At the 85th minute Airman First Class Chieffy Caligdong received a pass from Angel Guirado and did what he does best, calmly delivering a knockout punch with the ruthlessness of an assassin picking off his prey.

As the ball burst into the net the Pinoy section of the Rajamangala erupted, and I swear in the distance I could hear the folks in Barotac Nuevo do the same.

Age and injuries have taken their toll on Caligdong, dulling his blistering speed ever so slightly. But the lethal striker's instinct is still there.

This is one of the most important wins in our Footballing history. I simply could not have written this script better.

Chieffy is back to where he began: as the super sub. Caligdong started his national team career in 2004, when then-coach Aris Caslib inserted him into the lineup down 1-0 to Timor Leste in the Tiger Cup. Caligdong replicated the feat of Germany's Oliver Bierhoff from the 1996 European Cup final when the Mannschaft were also 1-0 down and Bierhoff scored a pair to win the Cup. With Caligdong it was two late goals to give the Philippines its first ever AFF Championship win.

Back then he was too inexperienced to start. Now as younger,  players have emerged, he may be too old to crack the starting eleven, especially after a listless night in the loss to Thailand.

Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. As he was then, Caligdong is a handful coming off the bench with 20 minutes to go. Knowing he won't need to conserve his energy, he can threaten tired defenses with his energy, pace and guile.

As soon he stepped on the park Caligdong seemed to electrify the side, with one give-and go that didn't quite work out and a dangerous cross that Angel Guirado was not able to convert. Then when Guirado returned the favor, Caligdong was on target.

As crazy as it sounds, I am probably still not starting him against Myanmar if I am Coach Weiss. I like him coming off the bench. I want those opposing defenders to feel that lump in their throats when they see him jumping up and down on the sidelines beside the fourth official, ready to terrorize once again.

The team still needs to improve if they want to challenge for the crown. Up until Caligdong's entrance, it was a dour game for both teams. Both played a compact 4-5-1 formation that made for few chances. The Philippine defense was mostly solid but played risk-averse Football and were not able to link up well with the midfield. Ray Jonsson had a difficult game at times, misjudging one high ball clearance and forking over possession with a poor square pass.

Phil Younghusband's guns were silent once again. His best effort, in the 38th minute, drifted wide.

The Philippines will need to display more punch if they wish to go deep in this Cup. On Tuesday they did just enough against an average Vietnam side. Tougher tests await.

Congrats, Coach Diding Cabalida. With Weiss suspended, Dumaguete native Diding Cabalida helmed the Azkals. He now has a 100% record in international matches. Cabalida must deserve some credit. The Azkals assstant is a proven winner who guided Air Force to two straight UFL League titles and a UFL Cup crown as well. I couldn't be happier for him.

The Philippines are in great shape in Group A. With three points from two games, the Azkals are in second place in Group A, behind Thailand on six points.

As I write this the War Elephants have put the finishing touches on a masterful 4-0 thrashing of Myanmar, with Teerasil Dangda scoring a hat trick. His third strike is an absolute work of art. He streaks forward and controls a high through-ball with the outside of his right foot, then unleashes a piledriver of a shot with his left that just abuses the Myanmar keeper.

Vietnam and Myanmar are languishing in the bottom of the group with one point apiece. Even if we draw against Myanmar on Friday, we secure passage to the semi if Thailand beats or draws Vietnam, an increasingly likely scenario. Even if Vietnam wins over Thailand, we could still go through depending on what the rules are for tiebreakters in this tournament.

However, a defeat to Myanmar will doom us to an early exit no matter what happens in the other game. In case you are wondering, we have never beaten Myanmar.

Friday's games will be played simultaneously at 9 pm Manila time, with the Philippines-Myanmar game going to the SCG stadium while Thailand and Vietnam play in Rajamangala. This scheduling convention is common in round-robin tournaments to avoid the manufacturing of results that could bring both teams into the semis with an arranged result, or help them avoid a certain team in the semifinals. For a history lesson on this, click here.

I am so glad I did not commentate on this game. What would I have said? Would I have lost my voice? Screamed into the microphone? Burst into tears? I dunno. But in the stands, beside Ebong Joson in full Blue Haired Fanatic garb, I could just be my true fanboy self, shrieking and hugging everyone around me. The Kaholeros, myself included, are all hoarse right now after cheering madly for 90 minutes. But it was worth it.

November 27, 2012 will go down as one of the happiest nights of my life.

You can follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.

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