Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Palami, Weiss OK with Azkals performance in loss to ‘strong’ Uzbekistan U-23

By Alfonso Ramirez

DUBAI — Team manager Dan Stephen Palami was beaming like a Cheshire cat as he high-fived each and every member of the Philippine national football squad moments after it absorbed a 3-0 defeat against Uzbekistan’s Under-23 team.

“Good job, guys!” he said as members of the Azkals swirled around the Philippine bench at the main pitch of the Al Maktoum stadium on Saturday as coach Hans Michael Weiss crossed the midfield line to extend the customary congratulatory handshake to Uzbek coach Vadim Abramov.

“It’s a good test match and I congratulate Uzbekistan for winning,” the 45-year-old German said at the post-match press briefing.

Palami agrees with his coach’s assessment.

“I think it’s a very good first game. The result may not be good, but I think in the overall view of the preparations for the [AFC] Challenge Cup, that would be good for the team,” he told InterAKTV before joining Weiss at the media room.

Uzbekistan, which also used the Azkals friendly to warm up for this month’s Olympic qualifying matches, has a clean record of two wins and as many draws for their eight points in Group B of the qualifiers.

Uzbekistan has consistently been the strongest team out of the Central Asian nations that include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan. The Uzbeks won the football competition at the 1994 Asian Games in Japan.

“Uzbekistan’s senior team is one of the top four in Asia [and they’re handled by] the same coach who’s coaching them dito sa under 23, so I hope we gained good experience,” Palami said.

Asked to assess the match, he said: “We’re trying to experiment positions lalo na may mga injuries. James [Younghusband] had to play out of position – nasa right back when he’s supposed to be in the center.

“We were able to more or less contain them a bit [in the second half] kasi we played more defensively and we just tried to do the counters. Ang problema, it’s been a while since we really played together as a team… actually, it’s the first time. Makikita mo there’s still deficiency sa fitness [level] pati sa position ng team… but that was a good experience against a very good team and Uzbekistan is one of the best in Asia.”

Weiss meanwhile, attributed the loss to the Azkals’ “lack of cohesion.”

“We lack cohesion because as it is often the case… there are two to three new faces for example the brother of Angel [Guirado] – Juanito – and Dennis Wolf and also Misagh Bahadoran. Of course, were also missing Aly Borromeo and Chieffy Caligdong so these people who are playing need time to adjust and obviously facing a strong team like Uzbekistan, mistakes get punished very severely and quickly. This is something we have to accept at this moment, but as I mentioned, in the long run it will definitely pay off that we learn from this experience,” he said.

“I am particularly happy with the second half where we’re seeing a more defense-oriented team … having one of the strikers working more in the midfield… that helped us to prevent our defense line from getting overrun not like in the first half. I see that as a very positive sign that the spirit of the group is okay and we’re starting to grow into a strong national team.”

Azkals manager Palami said they could have chosen to play against a weaker side to boost the national team’s image and satisfy the fans, but that would not help the team in the end.

“Our objective has always been clear and that is to prepare this team for the AFC Challenge Cup and we could do that by facing teams that we know we could easily beat or do that by facing teams that can give us good preparation and will give us a tough time like Uzbekistan,” he said.

“Of course, losing is not a good thing whether against a strong or a weaker team. I’m sure the players will learn from this and I’m sure the coaching staff will do their homework to make sure that whatever there is that needs to be changed or that needs to be further developed for the team will be done.”

Weiss meanwhile, sees the first of the three Middle East friendlies as a positive and “realistic” development.

“As I said, I see this match on the aspect of learning [by] starting football on the highest level in Asia. I think in a match like this two years ago would have cost a very very bitter, maybe 7, 8. or 9-0 defeat. So at this point of time, it’s a 3-0 defeat,” he said

“A defeat is a defeat. There’s no excuse for a defeat but we should put everything in the right context and see where we stand and make small steps and not dream of something which is unrealistic. At this moment that is OK… I’m content with the performance of this team.”

The Azkals flew to neighboring Doha to play its second friendly against Al Ahli SC, a first division club in the Qatar Star League, and will be back in Dubai on Valentine’s Day to prepare for its third and last friendly against Qantas Australia U-23 “Olyroos” on Thursday.

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