After tough games against regional powerhouses Malaysia and Indonesia, the Philippines welcomes a minnow of world football to Panaad stadium this Tuesday.
Guam is a nation of about 180,000 people. A territory of the United States, its Football Association was founded in 1975 and was only admitted to FIFA in 1996.
The Pacific Islanders are languishing at 194th in the world rankings. Hong Kong once beat Guam 15-1 in 2007 and Korea DPR laid a 21-0 licking on them in 2005. Even neighboring island nations bully them. Last year Solomon Islands drubbed Guam 7-0 while New Caledonia put nine unanswered goals past them.
They only won their first game ever over a FIFA member three years ago when they bested Mongolia 1-0.
The only time the Philippines played Guam was in 2000 Asian Cup qualifying in Vietnam. The Philippines came out on top 2-0. Current Pachanga coach Norman Fegidero and cousin Troy Fegidero got on the scoresheet that day.
The coach of the Matao, as the team is called, is Gary White, an Englishman whose specialty seems to be coaching island nations. He has previously headed the national teams of the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands.
The Southampton native is no slouch. He sports a UEFA "A" coaching license and under his tutelage, Bahamas rose 55 spots in the FIFA world rankings. Expect a disciplined, tactically sound side to face the Azkals on Tuesday.
However the players themselves may be technically overmatched. There's precious little info on most of the Guam squad. They hail from teams in the Guamanian league that have quaint names like Quality Distributors, Cars Plus, and Fuji-Ichiban Espada. They are a young team, with captain Jason Cunliffe, at 28, one of the oldest players. I do know for a fact that midfielder Michael Leon Guerrero and his brother (I presume) Scott Leon Guerrero, are not my relatives.
Josh Borja is on the squad. The 21-year old has struck five times for Guam and will be a marked man. Watch him here scoring quickly off the opening whistle against Korea DPR 3 years ago. In case you're wondering, DPR went on to win 9-2.
But there will be one familiar face on the Guam side for the Azkals: midfielder Jonahan Romero. The Guamanian-American from Virginia is a regular on UFL side Kaya. He's a big, strong presence who will be a handful in both defense and offense. Teammates Jason Sabio and Lexton Moy must be itching to mix it up with him.
The Azkals will be brimming with confidence going into this match. They'll have a boisterous home crowd supporting them and are well ahead of Guam in the world rankings.
Problem is, Vietnam probably also felt the same before we beat them in December of 2010.
Football is and always will be an underdog's game. The technically inferior squad can always batten down the hatches, play valiant defense, and fight for a result. Could this happen on Tuesday? I doubt, but anything's possible with football.
I hope the visitors don't succumb to the temptation to slide the transmission of their bus into "P."
My friend Graeme MacKinnon helped manage the U21 squad in the Hossanah Bolkiah trophy early this year. The team took some heavy beatings in that competition, but he told me that it was precisely because coach Zoran Djordjevic forsook a defensive game plan for an attacking one, even if it left us vulnerable. "You don't learn anything from parking the bus." I agree. Will Gary White have the same philosophy?
We know Coach Hans Michael Weiss' intentions. He isn't taking any chances. The German mentor told the press after the Indonesia game that his "top team" will start versus Guam.
We can therefore expect the Younghusbands to end their brief spell as Double Impact Subs and get starts. We'll probably see Paul Mulders and Jerry Lucena in the midfield. The suspension of Manny Ott means either Jason De Jong or Moy could bust into the starting eleven. Dennis Cagara, Rob Gier, Jason Sabio, and Carli De Murga should be the defensive back four.
Chieffy Caligdong also picked up a red card last Tuesday, so he will sit out. This could mean a start for Jeffrey Christaens. Last year Azkals assistant coach Diding Cabalida told me that the Fil-Belgian "plays like Chieffy." He's a true left-footed midfielder who could have a big day. It's a shame that the selectors ignored another gifted left-footer, Floriano "Tating" Pasilan. The Green Archers Globe standout from nearby San Carlos City is third in Division One with ten strikes.
Neil Etheridge will surely start in goal, but the question is: will he get much work? The Azkals are looking to dominate possession and shield him from any shots. If the game is out of reach by the middle of the second half, might Weiss give Green Archer Patrick Deyto his first taste of International play? Or will he let Negrense Ed Sacapano have a run-out in front of friends and family?
It would be awesome if OJ Clarino earns his first cap. Anto Gonzales is also in the line-up. His ability to pull the strings in the midfield could be on display, as is his heroic work rate on defense. Might Roxy Dorlas get a first cap in years? The last time he played in Panaad he logged 180 minutes in two friendles in as many days against Ceres and Global. Let's not forget Patrick Reichelt. He could spell James Younghusband at right wing at some point.
In many previous matches Weiss has been hesitant to bring in substitutes. If the Azkals score a bunch of early goals, he should go to his bench early and often, and not just to give playing time to reserves. We also need to avoid injuries to our starters. Who would want a major injury to someone like Phil Younghusband in the 85th minute of a friendly versus Guam while leading 4 or 5-0? Knock on wood.
Tactically, the Azkals will go out with guns blazing. Expect a 4-4-2 or even 4-3-3 as the Azkals gun for a bumper crop of goals. When Mongolia sat back last year, the Azkals seemed to go with three defenders instead of the usual four at times. They might do that again if Weiss once again comes to the conclusion that defending against air with three defenders is just as effective as defending against it with four. We saw a lot of old-school long-ball play in the last two games. Against Guam's callow defenders, it might work.
I'm dismayed that there are so few Negrenses and Ilonggos on the squad for this game. Only Sacapano, Ian Araneta plus veterans Boogie Margarse, Roel Gener, are listed and available. This is a friendly being played in the Hiligaynon-speaking heartland of Pinoy football against a beatable foe. It would have been a classy PR move to honor decades of Visayan contribution to Philippine football by bringing in young players from the region to play. But that isn't happening. No Pasilan, no Jake Morallo, no Jovanie Simpron, Joven Bedic, Ruben Doctora, Arnie Pasinabo, Neckson Leonora or Bervic Italia. You can include Josh Beloya in that list. The Fil-Swiss is an adopted Bacolodnon. It's a shame. These are quality players.
One top Visayan player has confided to me his bitterness about how his kababayans have been shut out from the national team. For sure he is not alone. Including even just a few of the players listed above would have sufficed. But they are all absent.
I may not agree with everything that goes on with the national team. But I'll always support the boys, even with my headset on. I'll be bold enough to make a prediction for once: Philippines 5, Guam 1. Let's finish the June friendly season on a high note.
POSSIBLE STARTING XI
De Murga — Gier — Sabio — Cagara
James YH — DeJong — Lucena — Christaens
A. Guirado — Phil YH
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.