More hard work up for gritty Filipinas in the New Year
Alen Stajcic has experienced being part of some of the biggest football competitions in the world. But those, he feels, pale in comparison to what he has done for the Philippine women’s football team.
“This is probably the best experience, I think, in my career,” Stajcic, the veteran coach from Australia, said after he steered the Filipinas to a historic berth in the Fifa (International Federation of Association Football) Women’s World Cup.
Stajcic’s seat had yet to warm his seat last February when the Filipinas secured their qualification to the biggest festival in women’s football by beating Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinals of the Asian Football Confederation Women’s Asian Cup in India.
It’s an achievement no Philippine national football team—even on the senior men’s or youth level—has ever done until that dramatic win that proved that hard work and commitment to ask for the moon can pay off.
“I think everyone can finally see that investment pays off,” said Camille Rodriguez, who had seen the team grow from minnows to contenders in the Asian level.
Rodriguez may have played a bit part in a year to remember, but she’s glad to see the squad also validate its World Cup qualification with breakthrough feats throughout a year never to be forgotten.
The Filipinas also took bronze in the Southeast Asian Games, a first in 36 years, before ruling the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Women’s Championship in front of their home supporters at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
They spent the rest of the year holding camps overseas, facing highly-ranked nations in New Zealand, Costa Rica and Chile to mixed results.
Several players emerged as stars during the course of the run, notably Sarina Bolden becoming its talismanic hero, Olivia McDaniel being a reliable shot-stopper between the sticks, Hali Long providing stability at the back and Sara Eggesvik being a revelation at midfield.
Their success also triggered a changing of the guard in the Philippine football scene, with the Filipinas capturing the imagination of the supporters of the beautiful game.
In contrast, the Azkals, who 12 years ago brought renaissance to the sport with its upset of Vietnam, endured a swoon after missing out on a spot in the Asian Cup and a semifinals berth in the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup.
“I’m glad that we were able to make a stance and really show people what we’re all about,” said Bolden, whose eight goals during the AFF tourney established herself as perhaps the main figure on the Filipinas squad.
There are plenty of reasons for Stajcic to be reflective as 2022 closed. But he also knows that he and the team will have to raise themselves to another level with World Cup preparations set to intensify before the July 2023 competition.
“We know we’ve achieved a lot, but there’s a mountain to climb before the World Cup and we know how much more we need to improve in preparation for the World Cup,” said Stajcic.
“It’s been a great year, we put it in our back pocket and be proud of our efforts and give ourselves a pat on the back because we really have achieved a great deal. But the reality is we know how much we have to work harder to climb up that mountain [this] year.” INQ