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Phil Younghusband wasted in midfield as Philippines crash out of AFF Cup

BOCAUE - A ground-breaking campaign that started full of optimism ended in disappointment when co-hosts Philippines were knocked out of the AFF Suzuki Cup before their home fans on Friday night.

The Azkals headed into their final Group A match against Thailand knowing that a win would secure automatic passage to the semifinals for the fourth consecutive time.

But, despite starting brightly with their team of European-flavoured superstars, they fell to 1-0 defeat to the defending champions. With the Azkals now out of the competition, they will need to take a very close look at themselves to assess where it went horribly wrong.

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Positives

The Azkals have never beaten Thailand in the Suzuki Cup, but the team took the game to their more illustrious neighbors in the first half, forcing the holders onto the back foot.

The very young defence held firm for the most part, supported by the excellent Roland Muller in goal. An opportunistic Thailand goal would doom the home side, but with better finishing, it can be argued the Azkals deserved to take something from this game.

Negatives

Defence was never this team's strongest suit, and against a Thailand team who had nothing to play for, the Azkals were undone by a quickfire goal. When it really counted, the co-hosts lacked a cutting edge, despite some impressive buildup play. Needing a victory against the defending champions to progress is never a good thing, but the Azkals should have no complaints about the result.

Manager rating out of 10

5 -- Persisting with playing your all-time leading scorer as a holding midfield player remain a mystery, especially without a more credible scoring option upfront. Unable to pin down his best defensive line all tournament long, coach Thomas Dooley gambled on 17-year-old Marco Casambre to start at the heart of defence. While that did not backfire, his substitution to change centre-backs midway through the second half did lead to Thailand scoring their winning goal.

Player ratings (1-10; 10= best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Roland Muller, 8 -- Just as he had the whole tournament, Muller came up with big saves, and spared his team's blushes. With only a makeshift back four to protect him, Muller rose to the occasion to keep the Azkals in the game. Blameless for the Thailand goal, he will be disappointed at not making his first AFF semifinal appearance.

DF Amani Aguinaldo, 7.5 -- At 21 years old, he had to assume the leadership role in an inexperienced Azkals' backline that had been hit by injury and international retirements. Having never had game time with any of his partners in the heart of defence prior to this tournament, the Global centre-back did not disappoint. He was guilty of losing a ball in the first half that almost lead to a Thailand goal, but overall a solid performance.

DF Marco Casambre, 7 -- Having just helped his university team win the Unigames, the teenager was thrust into the limelight in the Azkals' most important game of the year. Bucking a nervy start, he grew into the game, and the Azkals conceded after he was subbed off. One to look forward out for in the future.

DF Jeffrey Christiaens, 6.5 -- Most fans did not expect to see him in the Azkals' lineup, much less in the starting eleven. But the lack of viable options in defence meant that the Ceres' wing-back was called into service. Starting at left-back meant that he had the license to go forward against Thailand. All things considered, he put in solid shifts in the three group stage matches.

DF Kenshiro Daniels, 6.5 -- Dropped for the Indonesia match after starting for the Azkals against Singapore, Daniels was reliable when needed, and offered a few runs forward. Another one for upcoming Suzuki Cups.

Philippines captain Phil Younghusband
Phil Younghusband's midfield role clearly did not work out for the Philippines.

MF Phil Younghusband, 7 -- Hopelessly deployed out of position as a holding midfielder, the Azkals' captain showed his quality by testing the goalkeeper from a set piece that looked close to putting his team ahead. While Phil would excel in any area of the field, the Azkals all-time leading goal scorer is wasted so far away from goal, much to the delight of opposing defences.

MF Manny Ott, 7 -- The heartbeat of the engine room, and orchestrator of the attack, Ott proved dangerous when he drove forward with the ball. He would be disappointed at not making the keeper save when he shot from distance in the second half.

MF Stephan Schrock, 7 -- Playing three games in seven days would have taken its toll, but the former Eintracht Frankfurt man showed no signs of fatigue. Guilty at times at holding on to the ball, and taking on opponents, instead of releasing quickly, Schrock will be disappointed that his first-ever Suzuki Cup ended with a whimper.

MF Martin Steuble, 6.5 -- Pushed forward by Thomas Dooley from his usual right-back position, Steuble was solid on the right side, and combined well with James Younghusband late in the game in the push for the equaliser. The Azkals are still searching how best to utilise the former MLS man.

MF Pika Minegishi, 5.5 -- After bursting through against Singapore with an inspired performance, the Filipino-Japanese failed to impose himself against Thailand. His team pressed early to get the all-important first goal, but when Pika was subbed off for Misagh Bahadoran, they had more direct chances to score.

FW Mike Ott, 7.5 -- The tireless Mike Ott ran the Thailand defence ragged from start to finish. Knowing the Azkals had to win to ensure qualification, the younger Ott was at the forefront, as they took the game to Thailand in the first half hour. Would be disappointed at not troubling the keeper with his scoffed shot.

Substitutes

Misagh Bahadoran, 7 -- Coming on at half-time, Misagh was almost the hero as his glancing header from a James Younghusband cross almost broke the deadlock. After a brilliant 2016 season for his club, he will be bitterly disappointed at crashing out in the group stages.

James Younghusband, 7.5 -- Showed flashes of his skill when crossing the ball from the right. He won aerial battles, and he was a threat in the air, and the only real question was why he was only brought in in the last 45 minutes of the tournament.

Kevin Ingreso, 4.5 -- Suspect at left-back, he almost allowed Thailand to score a second goal, via the powerful Siroud Chattong, who brushed past the Ceres defender with ease

Manila-based Ryan Fenix is football columnist for Sports5 Philippines and analyst for InterAksyon.com. He is also a FIFA Ballon d'Or juror.

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