Football: Pinays embrace pressure in Women's Asian Cup`

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 19 2022 05:55 PM

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The players of the Philippine women's national football team are well aware of the task at hand when they compete in the AFC Women's Asian Cup in India starting this Friday.

At stake in the tournament are five slots to the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 -- a stage that the Filipinas are determined to reach after falling short of their goal in the 2018 edition of the event.

"Our mindset is just to focus on the goal, on what we're here to do, and that's to make it to the World Cup," midfielder Anicka Castañeda said. "I think the coaches, they've really made it clear what our goal is, and how we should focus on it."

There are 12 participating teams in the tournament, divided into three groups of four. The top two teams in each group, as well as the two best third-placed teams, advance to the knockout phase.

The Filipinas were grouped with Australia -- the co-hosts of the 2023 Women's World Cup -- as well as Southeast Asian rivals Thailand and Indonesia in Group B. They open their campaign on Friday against Thailand at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.

"I think that everyone feels a little bit of pressure, but I think that that just shows how important it is. I think that all of us feel some pressure because we all know how big of a tournament this is, and how the country is depending on us," said striker Chandler McDaniel.

"I don't think pressure is a bad thing, but for me personally, I just… You kinda just take it step by step, and we look to the Lord to give you strength to keep going, so I think we also lean on each other, too," she added.

"I think we're all dealing with it pretty well."    

Adding to the Filipinas' confidence is that they are coming off a productive two-month long camp in the United States, where they learned the playing style preferred by new head coach Alen Stajcic.

The players believe they have improved greatly during the camp, with Castañeda stressing that they are "all on the same page."

"We all know how he wants us to play," she said of Stajcic, who used to coach the Australian women's national team.

"I think the camp was very beneficial. Not many things get the opportunity to train and live with each other consistently for two months," added McDaniel, one of the heroes for the team during their qualifying campaign in September 2021.

"So I think that everything we learned in camp has definitely transitioned and has made us a different team, like while we're in Mumbai. So I think that it'll all help us going forward," she added.

Friday's game against Thailand will be crucial and McDaniel said it will set the tone for the rest of their campaign. Thailand has traditionally dominated the Southeast Asian rivalry, and in 2018, they defeated the Philippines to secure a semis spot and book a ticket to the 2019 FIFA World Cup.

Moreover, the match will likely determine who ends up as the second-placer in Group B, with powerhouse Australia widely favored to top the group.

"I think our confidence going in is very high. We all know that this first game is very important, and how we do in this first game will show how we will do in the rest of the tournament," said McDaniel.

"But I think everyone's going in with very high confidence, and I think that everyone believes in each other because of all the training we've done. So, I think that's gonna be a very good game," she added.

After playing Thailand, the Filipinas play Sam Kerr-led Australia on Monday at the Mumbai Football Arena, then wrap up their campaign against Indonesia on Thursday at the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex.