Challenge Cup Best XI
I had planned to include more Palestinians in this formation but a poor display against Philippines ruled out many players. I will probably write something about Palestine's performance a little later this week but for now I leave you with FP's Team of the Tournament.
Imran Mohammed (Maldives)
Statistically speaking DPR Korea's Ri Myong-Guk was by far the best shot-stopper in this tournament but the fact of the matter is, he did not stop much of anything. The defenders in front of Ri reduced him to a mere spectator- snuffing out any danger in the final third. This left two obvious candidates- Ramzi Saleh and the Philippines' Neil Etheridge. Etheridge eliminated himself from contention after getting sent off in the dying moments of the semifinal against Turkmenistan. Ramzi Saleh's complicity in Palestine's lethargic first half against the Philippines meant he was out of the picture as well.
I chose to go with Mohammed because he single-handedly kept Maldives in this tournament, making big-time saves in every game. Nepal should have beaten Maldives but came up against an inspired Imran. In the final group game, he allowed Turkmenistan to win the group by making one-on-one saves on Ashraf Nu'man and Mohammed Samara in the second half. Even in the opening 3-1 loss to Turkmenistan, Imran managed to keep the scores level at 1-1 until the 78th minute. Had any of his teammates bothered to show up in Nepal, it might have ended differently for the Red Snappers.
Pak Nam-Chol II, Ri Kwang-Chon, Jon Kwang-Ik (all DPR Korea)
Everything for DPR Korea starts at the back and it is, in large part, a team effort with eight players dropping back to defend, press, and win the ball back. The aforementioned trio were so good, so dominant that Ri Myong-Guk hardly broke a sweat en route to the final. Unfortunately, Challenge Cup statistics are not readily available but by my estimation total shots on the Chollima did not even come close to eclipsing double digits.
Pak Nam Chol I (DPR Korea) The deserved winner of the MVP award- the literal incarnation of a box-to-box midfielder. Pak scored in all three group games and was involved in every attacking move quickly shuttling balls for the forwards to finish off. Ruslan Mingazow (Turkmenistan) was similarly influential for the Green Men, albeit in a more advanced role. Paul Mulders (Philippines) was understated but excellent as he terrorized fullbacks out on the wing and wreaked similar havoc when he cut inside. It's hard to imagine any other Filipino player sending in the cross for the opener against Turkmenistan or expertly picking out Juan Guriado for the winner against Palestine.
No one could get through Murad Ismail (Palestine) in midfield which took a lot of pressure off a makeshift back line. Pak Nam Chol had his poorest game offensively against Palestine and Ruslan Mingazow's supply-line to his fellow Green Men was completely cut off. His offensive contribution is much underrated- with his rasping shot played a direct role in Palestine's first goal of the tournament.
Phil Younghusband (PHI) was very efficient and opportunistic. When the Azkals needed a goal this was the man who would provide it. The knock on his excellent goals-per-game ratio was that it was inflated with nearly half the scores coming from encounters against minnows Brunei, Bhutan, and Timor Leste. After bagging six goals and the Golden Boot against competent opposition those goals (8) only account for a third of his tally (24 goals in 34 caps).
Arslan Amanow (Turkmenistan) bailed out the Turkmen against the Maldives, setting up the winner and scoring the third and then repeated the feat against the Philippines. Bizarrely omitted from the starting eleven against DPR Korea- Amanow made his presence felt as a sub- rattling the crossbar with a free kick and winning a penalty.
Ángel Guirado (Philippines) went into Beast Mode with the Philippines down a goal against Tajikistan. He set up the equalizer- stealing the ball and steamrolling down the left flank before assisting Phil Younghusband. For his final act, he bravely headed home the winner ten minutes from time. His combination of power and pace is an absolute pleasure to watch; it's too bad he didn't make in La Liga, but when the door shut in Spain a giant window opened in The Philippines.