The game was won on the details. There will be plenty of talk about Phil Younghusband's strike after the half and Angel Guirado's goal in injury time that have catapulted the Philippines into the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals.
Both were lovely goals, but a football game is won with dozens of little plays and encounters over ninety minutes, and time and time and again the Azkals dotted their 'i's" a d crossed their "t's" all evening long with a bunch of key unsung plays.
Eleven minutes after scoring, Phil Younghusband, a striker, tracked all the way back to the left flank on defense. He looked like a left back. You could sense the hunger, the sense of urgency, the drive to ensure that his goal would not be negated.
Phil mentioned in the postgame press con that he had been working on tracking back on defense and that Coach Michael Weiss had helped him with that part of the game.
Four minutes later there was another play that showed how well this team has gelled. James Younghusband collected the ball in the midfield. Birthday Boy Carli De Murga bombed down the right flank, a classic wingback overlap. James opted to send the ball into the middle. The Azkals lost possession, and Myanmar countered. That stranded De Murga deep in Myanmar territory. James read the play perfectly and scurried back to cover on the right back slot for De Murga.
Then in the 69th minute, another massive play. Kyi Lin, Myanmar's number 8, has been the talk of the regional Football press corp even as Myanmar has disappointed. He was a caged beast all game long, threatening from the right side with his speed.
With the Azkals nursing a 1-0 lead, Lin jukes and jinks with the ball, dancing in the box, evading defenders, looking like he might spring something special. Then as if from nowhere, Dennis Cagara storms in and lays a textbook tackle on him, relieving him of the ball and snuffing out the danger.
In the 87th minute Myanmar picked up a corner and Angel Guirado, who looked like the lone striker, went all the way to the goal line to help defend the set play. With eleven Pinoys in the box, Myanmar never had a chance.
Simple, team-first, unselfish, aware Football. It's the brick and mortar, the foundation on which great teams are built on. The Azkals had plenty of it tonight.
The aging heart of the Philippines' defense held firm. I wondered aloud how Rob Gier and Juani Guirado, both well into their thirties, would hold up to the rigors of the group stage schedule. As it turned out, they answered the call of duty admirably, keeping a clean sheet for the last 225 minutes of the group stages. Experience 1, Age 0.
Will this bunch be around for the semifinals? I ran into Paul Mulders and Dennis Cagara outside the press room on their way to the team bus. Mulders says he is not sure if he will make it. Cagara says he will have a word with the Sports Director of Karlsruhe, his team in Germany, but he says his team wants him to go back first before a decision is made.
Jason De Jong, who fed Phil on the first goal, told me that he is also unsure of Jerry Lucena's availability.
You can't blame the team for going with European-based Azkals in a competition. The likes of Mulders, Schrock, Cagara, and Lucena are in general a bit above the players based in the UFL, with some exceptions. But missing them for the rest of the tournament is not ideal.
In a few days it will be known who will be free and who won't. It is likely that Weiss will have to go to his bench. One player who may get some action is Chris Greatwich. He got zero minutes in the group stages, but some starters players perhaps missing, he could be called up to perform in the semifinal round.
It was a wonderful atmosphere in Supachalasai Stadium. Among the three games, this was the best-attended by the Filipino community in Bangkok. The central location of Supachalasai had something to do with it maybe, as did the Friday night schedule and the fact that it was a do-or-die game (sort of). The Kaholeros led the crowd brilliantly, and after the game was over, the Azkals paid tribute by heaving their gear into the stands.
Dennis Wolf was one of the Azkals who pitched his jersey into the stands, as did Chieffy. James lofted a boot into the crowd, and de Murga seems to have given away a pair of shorts.
Sports brings a nation together. And you could feel it in the stands that night. Pinoys coming as one to celebrate being Filipino, thousands of miles away from home. It was a beautiful moment in a wonderful evening in Bangkok.
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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