Azkals almost ready?

THE friendly between the Azkals and Bahrain at the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa last Thursday was a revelation of sorts. A few things from the 1-1 result:

First, new coach Scott Cooper has shown he’s up to the task in turning the Azkals into a competitive squad as the AFF Suzuki Cup and the AFC Asian Cup draw near.

The team distributed the ball well and won challenges. The defense and midfield also recover well every time the Azkals lose the ball. There were communication problems, but these were few and far between, such as a Neil Etheridge throw from the box that went straight to a Bahraini midfielder.

The presence of Premier League goalkeeper Neil Etheridge must have been intimidating for the Bahrainis as they couldn’t do as much on home soil, except for the equalizer late in the game.

And with Stephan Schrock back in action, the midfield looked solid and stable. The Azkals were a composed bunch as they distributed the ball in the middle third and defensive third.

The problem — a recurrent one — was apparent in the attacking third. Although Philip Younghusband scored his 51st career goal as an Azkal, he and his fellow attackers weren’t much of a threat up front.

Watching from the replay of a live stream, I couldn’t recall an attempt that came from open play. Both clear chances in the first half came from set pieces. In contrast, Bahrain was more treacherous during counter attacks, which had more variety when they brought the ball in the danger zone.

The Azkals’ attack not only lacks creativity, it has become predictable. It doesn’t help if the players can’t pull the trigger, or try shooting from outside the box. I’m sure Cooper now knows these deficiencies pretty well.

Like Thomas Dooley before him, Cooper needs triggermen to give this team the slightest chance against titans in the Asian Cup. A goalscoring mercurial striker alongside a now lumbering but still dangerous Younghusband would help. That’s unless, of course, he opts for a more defensive mindset, which I believe would be counterintuitive.

With a system in place from his predecessor, Scott Cooper only has to tweak the team into fighting form and ensure they are fit to go into two successive battles in the next few months. But to transform the Azkals into a winning squad, Cooper might have to do more without reinventing the wheel.

Source: Local News

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