When Alen Stajcic was first announced as the new coach for the Philippine Women’s National Football Team, there was a sense of excitement that a man of his caliber will lead the country in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022 in India.
All of those hopes and prayers that the 48-year-old will lead the Filipinas into uncharted territory came to fruition Friday evening at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
The Philippines emerged with a 1-0 victory over Thailand for the first time in history to enjoy a dream start to its Group B campaign courtesy of Chandler McDaniel’s 81st-minute strike.
Despite being in the job for a little over two months, Stajcic knows the gravity of this win for the program.
“It’s a massive win,” said Stajcic after the match.
“We are currently second in our group. Being second obviously gives you a lot of confidence and most importantly three points on the board.”
However, the team had to overcome one obstacle before their match against the Thais.
The Philippine contingent had a COVID-19 outbreak with one key player in striker Sarina Bolden being put in isolation for health and safety protocols.
“Considering the difficulty we had in the last 24 hours (where) we had a small COVID-19 outbreak in our squad yesterday and players have been in isolation for the last 30 hours,” bared Stajcic.
“We lost one of our key players in Sarina Bolden just yesterday so for us to put in that kind of performance and be under such an extreme sort of difficulty just shows how far this team has come — it shows a lot of good qualities in this group. They deserve to be rewarded but ultimately it’s just one game.”
Already having to thwart COVID, Stajcic knew that the odds were already stacked against the Philippines before the game formally started.
Katrina Guillou had a solid start, even gaining a chance early on. Hali Long and Olivia McDaniel were spectacular as well.
Come the end of the 90 minutes, however, all he saw were heroes on the pitch who gave everything and got what they deserved.
“I think the whole team as a unit was the impressive factor. I mentioned the two center-backs (Long and Dominique Randle)… the players who came on, the left-back, the right-back,” he remarked.
“You know, I can really get through the whole team. Quinley (Quezada) only got put up front last minute. She hasn’t been really playing in the last couple of months. She just got thrown in the deep end this morning when Sarina was ruled out,” said the erstwhile Australian national team coach about the JEF United Chiba player.
To finally secure a victory over Thailand is a groundbreaking achievement in itself.
Despite making history, though, Stajcic is adamant that he and his team have their sights set on the daunting task of getting a good result against Australia, which earlier secured a whopping 18-0 win over Indonesia.
“It’s a big weight off the shoulders of the players who’ve been in this team for a long time. In that respect, it’s fantastic but ultimately come midnight tonight, we’ve got to focus,” said the former Central Coast Mariners coach.
“We have a big game against Australia who are such a powerful team and one of the best teams in the world.”