THE Philippines will bank on hometown inspiration when it tackles powerhouse Australia today, highlighting the start of the 12th AFF Women’s Championship at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium and Binan Football Stadium in Laguna.
Ushering in Group A hostilities, the Filipinas and the Aussies collide in the 7 p.m. nightcap following the 4 p.m. match between traditional rivals Singapore and Malaysia at 4 p.m. also at the Rizal Stadium.
Four-time champion Thailand tackles Indonesia at 7 p.m. in the other Group A game at the Binan Football Stadium in Laguna in the 11-nation tournament organized by the Philippine Football Federation with the support of Philippine Sports Commission.
It will be the first time that the Filipinas are competing in front of a hometown crowd since the 30th Southeast Asian Games, hoping to draw extra energy from local fans, who are expected to come in droves to watch them play at the heritage-rich pitch.
Buoyed by their bronze-medal finish in the 31st Southeast Asian Games last May, the Filipinas of Australian coach Alan Stajcic aim to use the tournament as part of their build-up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup that will be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand in 2023.
Although his charges will face a younger Australian squad, Stajcic reiterated that their rivals from Down Under were still tough and should be tipped as tournament favorites.
“Age really isn’t an issue but the quality on the pitch. Australia has probably a lot more depth than most countries in Southeast Asia. No doubt they are still the favorites for this tournament whether they brought in their Under-23 or Under-20 squads,” noted Stajcic at the pre-tournament virtual press conference yesterday.
“Some of their 16-year—olds are as good as any of those who have come before them. Midfielder Daniela Galic and defender Alexia Apostolakis are probably among the best talents in Southeast Asia and they’re only 16,” the Aussie mentor, who once handled Australia’s youth program, added.
“I am not underestimating them (the Australians). They are a very good team and it will be a very good experience for us to play them,” he said.
Aussie Under-23 squad coach Melissa Andreatta, who was an assistant coach of the Matildas that blanked the Filipinas 4-0 in the AFC Asian Cup last February in India, said that only defender Charlotte Grant was the carryover from that side in the AFF Women’s Championship.
“The last time we played in this tournament was in 2018 (in Thailand) and we are here to continue building up our experience playing against the best teams in Southeast Asia, ”added Andreatta, who once worked alongside Stajcic in a “mentee-mentor” capacity.
She declined to sell the Filipinas short, saying that ” we are looking forward to a highly competitive and tactical game. I think it is the team that competes the most, sticks to their game plan and converts their chances that takes the win.”