Amid the immense growth of the Philippine Women’s National Football Team this year, it can be easy to forget that it remains a squad that is being developed in time for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Four straight wins in the 2022 AFF Women’s Championship on home soil have almost single-handedly brought Philippine football back to life with thousands of fans watching the Filipinas’ matches in Rizal Memorial or through different TV and streaming services.
However, setbacks tend to occur here and there.
The Filipinas saw their winning streak end as they suffered a 1-0 loss to familiar foes the Thailand War Elephants which dampens the former’s momentum heading into the final four of the regional tourney.
“We had the chances to win and we didn’t take them and ultimately you get punished against good international opposition. We got punished for missing those 4-5 half chances and then we gifted them one as well,” lamented Filipinas mentor Alen Stajcic.
“That’s what happens in football. Sometimes that happens and we gotta bounce back next game.”
That “next game”, though, is another tough assignment against Vietnam or Myanmar in the semifinals on Friday. Vietnam and Myanmar have sealed their entries into the semifinals with nine points each in Group B and their clash tomorrow night will only determine who finishes top of the said group.
For Stajcic, it is imperative that his players recover physically and mentally for the task ahead.
It will be the first time that the Filipinas will have a two-day break before their next fixture but that might not be enough under the circumstances.
“I think the key is recovery,” said the former Central Coast Mariners coach.
“This is brutal. It’s probably the most brutal international football there is for women. To play five games in nine days in these conditions is something I’ve never seen before.
“It’s gonna be tough. Vietnam and Myanmar have played one game less and had more rest. (The players) being recovered and healthy are certainly our biggest priorities,” he continued.
Vietnam and Myanmar rank 32 and 48 respectively in the FIFA World Rankings while the Philippines is in 53. The Filipinas played both teams in the 31st Southeast Asian Games.
They lost 2-1 to the Vietnamese in the group stage and won 2-1 over the Burmese in the bronze medal match.
“Vietnam and Myanmar are certainly the two favorites heading into the semifinals for sure. One less game in these conditions is a massive, massive advantage,” emphasized the 48-year-old mentor. “To play 450 minutes in nine days is something, as I’ve said, have not seen before in international football even (in) high-level domestic football. It’s brutal, it’s torturous.
“We saw some players pass out there in the end. It’s an extremely grueling schedule. The fact that Vietnam and Myanmar have had one game and really only one tough game against each other really puts them at a big advantage.”
Without a doubt, the odds are stacked against the Filipinas as they enter their second semifinal assignment in the history of their participation in this competition. Ultimately, though, the ball is round and they will be eager to spring another upset.