Michael Weiss unleashes more of Santi Rublico in Azkals' '10K Strong' battle vs. Vietnam

Santi Rublico was sensational even as a winger for the Azkals. PFF
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA—Michael Weiss may have just found his new main man for the Philippine Azkals in Santi Rublico.

In probably the grandest stage the Atletico Madrid youth team member has been in, Rublico showed what he could do more to the point that Weiss even designated the 18-year-old defender to play in a more upfront role, playing the winger in some offensive sequences.

Weiss' "gamble" almost paid huge dividends when Rublico came just a good second touch away from scoring a goal that would have sent much of the 10,378 fans at the Rizal Memorial Stadium into a frenzy on Thursday night.

Despite the missed goal—and the Azkals' home loss to Vietnam in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers—Weiss still expressed happiness about Rublico's performance—all the more that he had some great help in Jesse Curran.

"The two of them are a very good combo... The more playing time they have together, the more they become cohesive, understand each other, and create good chances," Weiss said in the post-match press conference at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium.

Weiss then hinted that the setup might likely be the same in the Azkals' next home stand against Indonesia on Tuesday night, saying that Rublico would have probably shrugged off more jet lag by then.

"For the moment, I wanna keep it like this. Don't forget, the boy just arrived 48 hours ago yet played for 90 minutes, so we have to give credit to the boy," Weiss further said. "He's a very strong-willed person and obviously can cope with the jet lag in a good way. We are happy to have him."

When asked about the sudden shift in position, Rublico said that it was fine with him.

"It's OK with me. It's not my normal position, but I believed in him (Weiss)," Rublico said.

Weiss hopes that more young players in Rublico's mold will be honed even as the German tactician admitted that age might have already caught up with the Azkals' core.

"We hopefully find more Santiago Rublicos and make the team stronger with younger persons. We cannot deny the fact that we are in an aging process," Weiss said, also citing Christian Rontini and Justin Baas as players he might bank on in the near future. 

Vietnam's second goal showed the Azkals' need for younger players who can keep up with the pace as Nguyen Dinh Bac scored off a counterattack right at the final play of the match, outrunning the Azkals' backline.

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