MANILA, Philippines -- A historic campaign in 2022 has prepared the Philippine women's national football team for heightened expectations this year, as they compete in the World Cup for the first time ever.
The Filipinas were the toast of Philippine sports in 2022, thanks to a series of impressive results that started in February, when they made it to the semifinals of the AFC Women's Asian Cup and in doing so, qualified for the FIFA Women's World Cup.
They also brought home a bronze medal from the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam and lifted the country's first-ever major football trophy when they ruled the AFF Women's Championship on home soil.
Along the way, the Filipinas also played in Europe, the United States, and South America for the first time. Their results were not always favorable, but the team and the coaching staff believed every experience is a step forward for the team.
"It's been a remarkable year," said Filipinas coach Alen Stajcic, who has been given plenty of credit for the team's rise in such a short span of time.
"To qualify for a World Cup for the first time in the history of the country is truly amazing. The bronze medal at the SEA Games was amazing. Winning the tournament at home for the first time, the AFF, was really, really remarkable and humbling," he added.
"A first trip to Europe, winning in Europe. A first trip to Central America, getting a point in Central America. A first trip to South America, getting a point in South America."
Their camps all over the world -- achieved with the support of team manager Jefferson Cheng and the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) -- was crucial for the Filipinas.
Stajcic has repeatedly stressed that he wants the team to learn to play different styles of football, and thus seeing how the sport is played by European and South American teams was invaluable for a squad that is still developing its own identity as well.
"It's been an incredible journey. The 12 months, 30 A internationals, for us to win 18 of those is an incredible start for the group. It's been an incredible ride and one that I've enjoyed," said Stajcic.
But Stajcic, whose contract was renewed after their historic Asian Cup stint, made it clear that there are more mountains to climb for the Filipinas -- and that this is a challenge they embrace wholeheartedly.
"We know how much more we need to improve in preparation for the World Cup," said the coach. "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 next year," he added.
The Filipinas are already aware of the challenges ahead of them in the World Cup. They are in Group A of the competition, which would pit them against European powerhouse Norway, host nation New Zealand, and Switzerland.
At 53rd, the Philippines is the lowest-ranked team in the group, but this has not kept the team's supporters from believing that the Filipinas can pull off some upsets.
"We've raised the expectations of the country which is fantastic, we've raised the expectations of the playing group which is even better now," said Stajcic.
The Filipinas' campaign in 2023 will begin in February, when they compete in a European event for the first time through the Pinatar Cup.
There, they will take on Wales, Scotland, and Iceland from February 15-21. All matches will be played at the Pinatar Arena Football Center in San Pedro del Pinatar, Murcia, Spain.