Malditas seek top 5 in AFC Asian Cup qualifying tourney

By Olmin Leyba, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 20 2013 08:48 AM | Updated as of May 20 2013 04:48 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Malditas left for Dhaka, Bangladesh Saturday, confident they can pull it off in the May 21-25 qualifying tournament for the Asian Football Confederation Women’s Asian Cup.

Composed of the core that’s been around since 2005 and beefed up by US NCAA Division 1 players, the Malditas (ranked 83rd in the world) seek to hold their own against Thailand (29th), Iran (52nd) and host Bangladesh (109th) and top Group B for a place in next year’s Women's Asian Cup.

The 2014 Asian tilt is highly important as it offers slots to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada to the Top 5 finishers – a target they believe is achievable.

"I think this team – if I was a betting man, I'd bet on these girls," Malditas coach Ernie Nierras said prior to their departure.

Nierras expressed satisfaction with the team’s preparations, highlighted by two training camps in the US. Along the way, the Malditas ruled the LA Viking Cup, a four-team competition that gave the Pinay booters a shot in the arm and big morale boost in their bid to make headway in the international scene.

Twenty six players have been tapped for the qualifiers, led by skipper Marielle Benitez, Sam Nierras, Heather Cooke, Marisa Park, Catherine Barnekow and Sarah Cook.

Rounding up the roster are Natasha Alquiros, Isabella Fernando, Christina delos Reyes, Patrice Impelido, Aisa Mondero, Inna Palacios, JoEllen Deleon, Joana Houplin, Monika Lee, Katherine Lim, Rachel Nichols, Shelby Salvacion, Jesse Shugg, Maria de la Cruz, Camille Wilson, Megan Jurado, Raylene Larot, Morgan Brown, Chalise Baysa, and Maria Shipe.

Phl XI will open its campaign against Iran tomorrow, then take on Thailand two days later, and Bangladesh on May 25, eyeing a group win and a berth in the World Cup-qualifying Asian Cup.

"The team is very healthy, this is probably the fittest and fastest team we've ever had. We have a good chance of making it," Benitez said recently on the program Gameday with Boom on Balls Channel.