Football: Pinays look to test Sam Kerr, powerhouse Aussies

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 24 2022 12:04 AM

The Filipinas celebrate Chandler McDaniel's goal against Thailand. Photo courtesy of the AFC.
The Filipinas celebrate Chandler McDaniel's goal against Thailand. Photo courtesy of the AFC

Fresh off a breakthrough triumph against regional rivals Thailand, the Philippine national women's football team now turns its attention to the highest-ranked squad in the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022.

The Filipinas will take on Australia, the 11th ranked team in the world, on Monday afternoon at the Mumbai Football Arena, with the winner of the match sure to top Group B and qualify for the knockout rounds.

The team is on a high after beating Thailand, 1-0, last Friday in their first game of the tournament -- their first ever triumph against their Southeast Asian neighbors after losing their past 12 meetings.

But the Filipinas, ranked 64th in the world, are well aware that Australia poses a more difficult challenge.

"(The win against Thailand) was a great win for the country," said Filipina-French defender Katrina Guillou, who starred for the Filipinas in her first appearance for the country. "But now, again, that game is over with."

The focus now is on the Matildas, who made a statement in their first game of the Women's Asian Cup with an 18-0 demolition of Indonesia also last Friday. Chelsea striker Sam Kerr netted five goals in the rout, in the process becoming her country's leading goal-scorer. Emily van Egmond also grabbed a hat-trick.

Australia's Sam Kerr scored five goals in their 18-0 demolition of Indonesia. Photo courtesy of the AFC.
Australia's Sam Kerr scored five goals in their 18-0 demolition of Indonesia. Photo courtesy of the AFC

Veteran defender Hali Long won't deny that Australia is a step-up in competition, but she is keeping an even keel in the lead-up to the match. 

"We try our hardest," she said of their mindset. "Make all the sacrifices we need to make, starting from our strikers all the way to the defense."

"We just have to try our very best, close them down, and I'm sure a good team like that will still get through and capitalize on our lapses," she acknowledged. "But we have nothing to lose, and we have everything to prove about where we're at, where our level's at."

Making the fixture all the more interesting is that Philippines coach Alen Stajcic previously coached Australia. He called the shots for Australia when they made the AFC Women's Asian Cup final in 2014 and 2018, and led them to the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2016. 

His tenure with the Matildas ended in 2019, but he returned to women's football last year when he was hired by the Philippine Football Federation to take charge of the women's program.

Stajcic made it clear on Friday that he was fully committed to the Philippine cause.

"My allegiances of where I was born and raised get put to one side, and now I'm fully behind this team that I've spent the last three months," he said. "We've developed, I believe, a really special bond."

"They've already had a special bond with each other for a long period of time, the core group of players. So I feel privileged to be allowed to come into that family and into that circle," he added. "They're a really, really tight family unit, this playing group, and they've really welcomed us with open arms."

"So you know, we're gonna do everything we possibly can to give them the best chance of representing their country the best way that they can."

According to the AFC, this will only be the second meeting between the Philippines and Australia. The Matildas won, 7-0, in the AFF Championship in 2008.

Australia will co-host the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 with New Zealand, and are already assured of a berth in the competition. There are still five spots to the World Cup at stake in the AFC Women's Asian Cup.

Kick off between the Philippines and Australia is at 6:00 p.m., Manila time.