NAVI MUMBAI, India – Having hurdled so many challenges just to get here, the Philippine Women’s National Team is hoping to make the most out of this campaign in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022 that kicks off on Thursday.
The PWNT won’t be seeing action until Friday when it clashes with regional powerhouse Thailand as action in Group B kicks off at the DY Patil Stadium here.
Coach Alen Stajcic’s side is brimming with optimism as the Filipinas aim to advance from the group stage for a shot at one of the five spots at stake for the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year.
Also in the Philippines’ group are Australia and Indonesia. The Top 2 teams in the group qualify for the quarterfinals together with the two best third placers from each of the three groups in the 12-team tournament.
“We are here to try to create history for Philippine football,” said Stajcic, the former Australian national team coach, who was hired by the Philippine Football Federation last October specifically for this mission.
“There are a lot of challenges. From players coming all over the globe, some were in clubs, some were not. Some of them have not played for a long time due to lockdowns brought by COVID. Game experience and matches have been very low so we started with that base. All of these players have worked extremely hard to get to this point.”
Shortly after the Filipinas punched their ticket to India by topping their group in the qualifying round in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the PFF set up camp for the team in Irvine, California, training and playing tuneup matches against local sides from the first week of November until their departure to Mumbai last week.
Majority of Stajcic’s 23 players for this tournament have Asian Cup experience in 2018 in Jordan, where the Philippines lost to South Korea in a playoff for a World Cup spot.
Another subplot to the tournament is Stajcic’s reunion with Australia, which the Philippines will play against on January 24 at Mumbai Football Arena. Stajcic coached the Matildas for five years until 2019.
Stajcic, however, said his team is focused on the duel with Thailand, which the Philippines has not beaten in 12 meetings.
“We’re putting all our energy (in that match). But we’re looking at ourselves to be honest and in preparing the best we can and being ready for whatever happens, I know it’s a cliché but if you look too far ahead you can sometime lose a bit of focus so we’re focused on our own preparation.”