Football: Stajcic hopes to have Bolden back against Australia

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 24 2022 11:58 AM | Updated as of Jan 24 2022 01:30 PM

Philippines striker Sarina Bolden. File photo. Photo courtesy of Mia Montayre/PFF.
Philippines striker Sarina Bolden. File photo. Photo courtesy of Mia Montayre/PFF.

Philippines coach Alen Stajcic hopes to have a full complement of players when they take on Australia in the AFC Women's Asia Cup 2022 later Monday in Mumbai.

The Filipinas took three points in their first game in Group B after pulling off a 1-0 upset against Thailand, their first victory over their regional rivals in 13 tries. Chandler McDaniel netted the match-winning goal in the 81st minute.

The Philippines secured the win even without Japan-based striker Sarina Bolden, who was ruled out ahead of the match over COVID-19 protocols.

"We had a COVID outbreak in the team in the last short period of time, which has been really unfortunate," Stajcic said after the match.

"We've prepared so well, we've been so diligent, the players have done everything right. And for it to leak into our bubbles was really disappointing," he added.

Not having Bolden was a blow, Stajcic admitted, as the forward would have been another goal-scoring threat to complement McDaniel up front. Bolden, 25, has scored four times in eight appearances for the Philippines, including the match-winner against Jordan in the 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup.

She currently plays for the Chifure AS Elfen Saitama in Japan's WE League.

"(Bolden is) without doubt, one of the key players in our team, and she really wears her heart on her sleeve," said Stajcic. "I know how proud she would be of the team, but I also know how hurt she would be not being out there with the team tonight."

"So you know, we're hoping she'll be back for the next game," he added.

COVID-19 has severely impacted the tournament, with hosts India forced to withdraw after an outbreak in their team. India were unable to field the minimum of 13 players required for their match against Taiwan on Sunday, causing the cancellation of the match.

The Philippines had to overcome a "small COVID outbreak" of their own, according to Stajcic, with the team isolated in the 30 hours leading up to the Thailand match.

The team has yet to respond to queries as to Bolden's availability for Monday's match against Australia, but Stajcic said Friday that the situation "is still in doubt with our team."

"We still got a few who have been locked in isolation even as we're playing tonight," he said at the time. "So you know, it's definitely the biggest mental hurdle I've had to overcome as a coach."

"I know the whole world's been dealing with the pandemic. But just to have it on the eve of your first match is really something difficult to overcome, so I think that's what really makes me proud about this performance today," he said.

The Filipinas are taking on a powerhouse Australian side that crushed Indonesia, 18-0, in their first Group B match also last Friday. Chelsea striker Sam Kerr netted five goals, taking her total to 54 to become her country's all-time leading goal-scorer.

The winner of the Australia-Philippines match will secure their place in the knockout phase. 

At stake in the AFC Women's Asian Cup are five spots to the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023, although Australia is already assured of a berth as one of the hosts along with New Zealand.

Kick off at the Mumbai Football Arena is at 6 p.m. (Manila time).