Azkals v Singapore Preview: Away Goal Please

Image Copyright Bob Guerrero.

Ah, we meet again.

The Philippines locks horns with Singapore on Wednesday night for the fourth time since September. And the stakes have never been higher.

After last Saturday's goose eggs, the Azkals and Lions will both gun for a Finals berth in the second chapter of the two-legged, aggregate-goals series in the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals.


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The venue has shifted to the city-state's Jalan Besar stadium, and the Football Association of Singapore, by only allocating 400 seats to the visiting team, has ensured that there will be no repeat of last September's friendly in Jurong West, when Singapore's large Filipino expat community outnumbered the home team's supporters.

It seems cynical of the FAS to do this, but it is certainly within FIFA regulations, which state that the home association need only set aside 4-5% of the stadium's seats for visiting fans. Jalan Besar, which is temporarily Singapore's national stadium while they build a new one, has 8,000 chairs, so 400 is about right.

And yet, strangely enough, the Azkals have an advantage: they're the Away Team and can benefit from the Away Goals rule.

In many competitions with two-legged matchups like this one, Away Goals is the first tiebreaker if the scores are level after 180 minutes. In some tournaments, the rule does not apply into extra time of the second leg, although according to Gue David, who was a match coordinator in Group B, for the AFF Suzuki Cup, it will.

Since we are the away team, only we can benefit from this rule, and if we hold the Lions to a non-goalless draw, then we are in the Finals. If the teams battle to yet another 0-0 scoreline after 90 minutes on Wednesday, then we go to thirty minutes of extra time, and if there is still no score after that, a penalty shootout.

The best path to victory for the Azkals is to score an early goal. That would require Singapore to disturb the nets not once, but twice, to escape.

If ever we do grab that early goal, then Coach Weiss should order his troops to coagulate in front of goal to preserve the result. I suggest the good old "Christmas Tree" formation: 4-3-2-1.

But to score early, the Azkals have to show more attacking spark than they did last Saturday. Chances were few and far-between, with Singapore's back line neutralizing Phil Younghusband and Angel Guirado well.

I would like to see the Azkals threaten from set pieces. With James Younghusband, Phil, Angel, and Juani going forward, we have tall guys who can nod high balls home. Baihakki Khaizan is 6'3" but he is the only Singaporean defender at that height.

Another opportunity: the Lion's goalie, Izwan Mahbud, is listed as standing 5'10" but in person he seems smaller. I'd try to pepper his goalmouth with long-range shots.

The Philippine midfield wasn't great last Saturday. Paul Mulders was invisible in attack except for one free kick that grazed the outside of the post. He will have to perform.

Mulders is sensational with the ball at his feet and can supply great service to the forwards. But credit Singapore for stifling him and the rest of the midfield with their high-pressure marking.

Jerry Lucena comes back to the lineup, and his composure will be welcome in the holding midfield slot.

Singapore will also welcome back a midfielder, Shi Jiayi. The Chinese-born player missed the first leg due to a family emergency. If you will recall from the game in Cebu, he tested Ed Sacapano with an effort from distance.

The key matchup will once again be Rob Gier and Juani Guirado in the center of the defense against Khairul Amri and Shahril Ishak. It's youthful speed versus experience, and as of the moment Gier and his mates on the back four have done their job, which is to thwart these two Singaporean studs and give Sacapano as little work as possible.

Look for Singapore to pressure the Philippine defense with long through-balls to Amri and Ishak.

Chieffy Caligdong came on with just fifteen minutes remaining. Should he be inserted earlier? It depends a lot on how Patrick Reichelt is performing. But if we take an early goal I would rather see Chris Greatwich enter the game to have an extra defensive midfielder.

The field is another issue. I was at Jalan Besar a few months ago to watch Loyola play Tampines Rovers in the Singapore Cup. The artificial turf looks a lot like the carpet in Turf BGC but it's much, much harder. The team will have to make use of their training sessions to familiarize themselves with its bounce. The Singaporeans have the upper hand here because they play on it all the time.

The Philippines are on the cusp of greatness. But the team needs to focus for a full 90 minutes and perhaps get a little luck to reach the finals.

Watch the second leg of the semifinal between Singapore and the Philippines this Wednesday, December 12. Live coverage begins at 7:30 pm on AKTV on IBC. Kickoff is at 8 pm sharp. You can also catch the game on ESPNStar.

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.