Thailand’s War Elephants stomped on the Philippine Azkals, 3-0, last Wednesday at Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium, frustrating the visiting team’s coach Thomas Dooley a third time in a match that presumably mattered for him personally but also presumably much more for his players, his wards for less than a year.
Dooley’s pitfall in the December 10 second semifinals match between Thailand and the Philippines seemed to have been his apparent engaging of the host team in a physical clash.
The Thais, however, did not bite and, instead, played a surprisingly slow-paced game that their fans are not used to seeing them do, and seemingly causing the visitors to lose their bite.
They broke the ice just eight minutes into the second and final leg of the semifinal series between them and the Filipinos for the 2014 Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, with Songkrasin Chanathip delivering to the sheer delight of the estimated 50,000 local supporters of the War Elephants.
From this point, the Thai booters played smarter and smarter, baiting the Filipinos into committing more fouls than they should have.
Daisuke Sato (8:22 minutes into the encounter), Martin Steuble (8:29), Azkals captain Robert Geir (63) Patrick Reichelt (64:09) and Steuble (81) contributed to the total of 14 fouls with which the Philippines gifted the host squad, and with the game already dangerously going the Thais’ way as it braced for the final whistle.
Worse, Sato, Steuble, Geir and Reichelt cost the Philippines four yellow cards and, to compound their woes, Steuble was given the red card with just a little more than nine minutes left in the match that, ironically, was a make-or-break one for the War Elephants.
Meanwhile and until Filipino-Swiss Steuble was ejected from the battle on the natural-grass pitch, the Thais incurred only four fouls and one yellow card.
The Azkals’ fouls aside, the Philippines was simply outrun and outdefended and otherwise simply outclassed and outwitted by the visibly hungrier home team, already a four-time Suzuki Cup champion.
Had the War Elephants lost, the Azkals would have gone to the finals of this year’s edition of Southeast Asia’s premier football tournament.
The Philippines only needed a draw (whether scoring or scoreless) or a win by one goal for it to contest the trophy against (as of press time) either Malaysia or Vietnam.
It, however, arguably blew it, having too few clear attempts at goal (save for one from Phil Younghusband in the dying minutes of the nearly one-sided play), having fewer ball possessions, conceding more corner kicks and allowing Thailand to go for the back of the net near goal.
The War Elephants seemed to prefer taking the game to the Azkals near the goal mouth, going easy on looping passes and drawing as many Azkals as possible inside the penalty box.
In so doing, they gave little room for the Philippine back wingers, who were forced to move around tighter areas, weakening their defense.
With the sorry defeat—and for the 15th straight time against Thailand since the early 1970s—the Philippines will have to wait for another two years to be able to again gun for a finals berth in the 2016 Suzuki Cup.
Meanwhile, Dooley is left with three straight disappointments when it mattered most.
First was when he failed to steer the Azkals to its third straight Peace Cup crown this year, losing to Myanmar in a game that his squad had practically won, only to lose it on an apparent coaching miscue.
Second was when the Philippines lost the Challenge Cup also this year to Palestine in a pulsating finals match where a trip to the 2015 Asian Cup was at stake.
And now this semifinals defeat to the War Elephants.
Dooley had better come up with some answers why the Philippines seems to be losing its bite in do-or-die games, or he may have little time left to make amends for the shockers thrown the way of the Azkals.