EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Philippines coach Let Dimzon looks back on subpar Southeast Asian Games
Things were looking up for the Philippine women’s national football team at the start of the year when they bagged a historic qualification to the most prestigious Asian tournament, that is why many consider their recent campaign at the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur a letdown after managing only three points out of four games.
The Philippine football WNT intended to finish the Games on the podium, and appeared to be well on their way with a triumphant start over Malaysia, prevailing 2-1. However, they went on to lose all of their other games: 0-3 to Vietnam, 0-6 to Myamar and 1-3 to Thailand. Vietnam eventually took the gold, Thailand the silver and Myanmar the bronze.
Expecting tough opposition against leaders of the region Vietnam and Thailand, the Pinays did in fact fare well against them losing only by a small margin compared to games in previous years. So the team’s hopes of a medal finish were hinged on their crucial matchup against Myanmar, but unfortunately they capitulated perhaps even conceding more than they should have to an opponent they were nearest to in ranking.
Even after the tournament ended a month ago, people are still wondering what happened to the team that qualified for ‘Asia’s Elite Eight’ and why their performance at the SEA Games do not reflect that. I asked the recently assigned head coach Let Dimzon to look back on what happened.
“Our objective for this tournament was to really make it to the podium. If we won against Myanmar we would have had a very good chance for that, but of course we weren’t able to reach our target,” Dimzon said.
She went on to discuss the goalkeeper situation that left a big impact on that particular game’s outcome in which a curious last minute change took place that saw a very young but very skilled player making their senior debut for the very first time.
“It’s a challenge for us coaches to decide which players to select for every game,” Dimzon acknowledged.
She reasoned that the decision for the change was entirely a strategic one where they based their first eleven as well as their substitutions on the strengths of their opponents, in this case Myanmar’s.
But as it turned out, the supposedly decisive swap turned on its head when successive goals were conceded easily and early and by the time the substitution was made that inserted the regular veteran keeper to help restore order to a defense struggling with the Burmese wing play, it was already too late.
“I hold myself responsible for the result,” Dimzon confessed.
Regardless, the beleaguered coach said that the Philippines is still far behind the level of the top teams in Southeast Asia.
“If you watch the games of Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, tactically and technically they are high up there. Their level is too far from us perhaps because their preparation period takes years; years of the team being together with lots of competitions and a regular league for their national team players,” she asserted, lamenting that the Philippine team pales in comparison, preparing only two months prior to a tournament and basically starting from scratch.
That is why the Dimzon and the coaching staff resorted to a more defensive stance in Kuala Lumpur. The team did have some success with it, holding Vietnam to a scoreless first half and conceding only one goal at half time to Thailand.
“Our tactical plan was to be defensive in the middle third,” she explained.
“We really held the confrontation line above the halfine so that the space covered by our goalkeeper will only be small. If the line was too high, the gap she’ll cover will be too vast. Then if we managed to recover the ball, we’d attack through counter.”
The Filipinas may find comfort in the fact that they were able to snap a SEA Games losing streak (first win since 2005) through the win over the hosts, or that they clamped down on 2015 Women’s World Cup participants Thailand and even scored against them; yet Dimzon contends that the future of the team does not have to be a bleak one unless some changes will be made with respect to how the Philippine Football Federation prepares the team ahead of international competitions.
“They should be given time to get organized and train together as a team in the longest possible way like in years. If they can work out a good preparation for the team that doesn’t just involve two or three months, it’s not impossible for our football to rise,” Dimzon said, particularly alluding to the next edition of the SEA Games which will be hosted by the Philippines.
“If we have a concrete plan for our women’s league like the other countries. If we can have that kind of support and program in women’s football we will have a chance to get better and get to their level.”
As for her future with the national team, Dimzon only said she doesn’t know who will take charge for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Jordan in April next year.