For the past two weeks, the training has been intense for the Philippine Women’s National Football Team as the 2017 AFC Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers loom.
With the tournament fast approaching, practices have stepped up, with training sessions happening every day — sometimes twice in a day, one in the morning and another late in the afternoon or early evening.
Even with the heightened sense of urgency for a tournament that also doubles as the FIFA Women’s World Cup Qualifiers, the team still has problems completing attendance.
The PWNT head coach Buda Bautista attributes this to the UAAP second round carrying on instead of going on a lengthy break unlike previously hoped.
“Kasi ang request talaga natin is, well, what I know is, i-mo-move yung games [to after the AFC Qualifiers] ng UAAP. Yun I thought talaga eh. Yun pala ang games na i-mo-move yung April lang. So, dun tayo hindi naging klaro,” a disenchanted Bautista said.
The coaching staff was expecting for the UAAP second round games to be moved to after the AFC Qualifiers, which is after April 13. This way, players can focus more on the national team instead of their training commitments with their respective school teams.
Rely San Agustin, tournament director for the UAAP football games, later revealed that the board had received no such request from the PFF.
“I don’t recall them asking us to move the whole second round to after the AFC Qualifiers. I have not received that letter, or maybe Ateneo did receive the letter but if we were to do that, then we’d probably end about second or third week of May already,” San Agustin shared, hinting at the scheduling constraints with which the board also has to contend.
The UAAP did honor a request to schedule the second round around the tournament dates which fall from April 3 to 12. UAAP games will take a break after March 29 and will resume on April 19.
“Before the season started, we had that first coaches meeting. And it was brought up that there was going to be this event. So, we made adjustments about that,” San Agustin said, insisting that the UAAP is supportive of the national team cause.
“Of course, it’s always the case. Any national team duties will always come first. We’ll always give way to that,” he added.
Bautista, meanwhile, is determined to work with the cards she and the coaching staff have been dealt with.
“Given the situation, we’ll try to work with it na lang. If we can produce players na fifteen during every session, then that’s good enough. Kasi at least ma-run mo lang [yung play]. At least, yung focus mo yung players na nandun. Yun nalang tinitingnan natin, it’s still positive,” she asserted.
Aside from player attendance, the team that hopes to make history through qualification amidst a very favorable bracket also has to cope with quality UAAP players pulling out due to injury and the high demands of academics.
Strikers Camille Rodriguez (Ateneo de Manila University) and Kyra Dimaandal (De La Salle University) were forced to withdraw because their professors were unwilling to compromise. Two other members from Ateneo, Nona Amoncio and Tiffany Siy, also had no choice but to step back because of their classes.
“Right now the situation with the schools, they’re no longer supporting yung playing for the national team. Bahala ka, you have to decide, you have to really decide,” the beleaguered head coach lamented.
With the UAAP second round trudging on, players continue training with their school teams in time for the weekly fixtures. For most of the players who are part of the national team pool that practice every evening, sometimes late until 8:00 PM, they are expected to be with their respective UAAP teams in tune-up drills early the following morning.
There is no question that the current scenario is physically tough on the collegiate players, which is why for somebody like Far Eastern University’s Jean Brigette Kadil, who is nursing a problematic knee, had no other option than to pull out.
When asked if the UAAP is still willing to make some more moves in the calendar so that national team has more breathing room, San Agustin was sympathetic but unmoved.
“That takes a heavy toll on the player, right? But again as I said, these are things that we cannot change already now eh. We’re all set and ready to go and then this thing comes around. We’re willing to support but we have to meet halfway,” San Agustin replied.
This only means that the national team will have to adjust even more to ensure that the team will be ready for the international competition, which is less than two weeks away.
“It’s a challenge, basta may numbers tayo na we can work with then walang problema. Yun lang, yun ang ipagdasal natin, na makumpleto,” Bautista added.
The AFC Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers will run from April 3 to 12 in Tajikistan with the Philippines facing the following opponents: United Arab Emirates (April 3), Iraq (April 5), Tajikistan (April 7), Bahrain (April 10), Jordan (April 12). The top team, along with Jordan, will move on to the final round.