Filipinas look to recover from ‘brutal’ schedule, tougher bracket
There seems to be a sense of both relief and worry from coach Alen Stajcic after the Philippines completed what he described as a schedule like no other.
“It’s probably the most brutal international tournament there is for women,” Stajcic said after the Filipinas played five group stage matches in nine days of the Asean Football Federation Women’s Championship.
Difficulty in dealing with such a situation didn’t hamper Stajcic’s side as it was able to secure a semifinal berth after kicking off the regional championship with four straight wins before dropping its last match in Group A on Tuesday.
A defensive miscue in the 75th minute allowed Thailand to claim top spot in the group with a 1-0 win, a disappointing result amid a crowd of almost 3,000 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Kanyanat Chetthabutr’s winning strike came after defenders Dom Randle and Sofia Harrison and goalkeeper Olivia McDaniel misjudged a high-bouncing ball.
The untimely setback sent the Filipinas to a semifinal date with either defending champion Vietnam or Myanmar, which at press time was contesting the top position in Group B.
“I don’t think we’ve got a good advantage over Vietnam or Myanmar,” Stajcic said. “They played one game less than us and, you know, had the easier group and less games.”
Vietnam and Myanmar easily clinched semifinal berths after they each beat Laos, Cambodia and Timor-Leste. They also had the easier assignments, in contrast to Group A, which featured Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia joining the Philippines and Thailand.
“So Vietnam and Myanmar are certainly the two favorites heading into the semifinals for sure,” Stajcic added.
Vietnam is favored to top the group, given its recent success of having won the last three editions of the Southeast Asian Games and topping the 2019 edition of the competition.
And the loss to Thailand virtually set the Philippines right in the path of the regional powerhouses.
The semifinal duel is set on Friday, with the Filipinas hoping to have plenty of time recharging their batteries—something the Filipinas badly need.
“One less game in these conditions is a massive, massive advantage,” Stajcic said.
Stajcic and his staff had been making change after change since the start of the tournament, with the aim of both giving every player a chance to shine and for the main cogs to get as much rest as possible.
The Filipinas began the match against Thailand almost in full strength, with Sarina Bolden, coming off a three-goal exploit in the 4-1 win over Indonesia, being benched.
Bolden did come on past the 80th minute, much to the delight of the crowd. The country’s top goalscorer in this tournament, who Stajcic called a talisman, is likely to start this time around, with an opportunity to get to the final on the line.
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