Football: Amid COVID threat in Asian Cup, PH operating with 'extreme caution'

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 26 2022 06:35 PM | Updated as of Jan 26 2022 06:58 PM

The Philippine players get their temperature taken upon arriving at the Mumbai National Stadium for their AFC Women's Asian Cup game against Australia. Photo courtesy of AFC.
The Philippine players get their temperature taken upon arriving at the Mumbai National Stadium for their AFC Women's Asian Cup game against Australia. Photo courtesy of AFC.

The Philippine delegation to the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 is operating with "extreme caution" amid the very real threat of the COVID-19 pandemic while they compete in India.

Host India has already been forced to withdraw from the tournament after an outbreak within its squad.

India could not field a 13-player squad -- the minimum required by organizers -- against Taiwan last Sunday, causing their game to be canceled. On Monday, India was officially kicked out of the tournament with their previous results nullified. 

"We're taking extreme caution," Philippines coach Alen Stajcic said of their squad.

"We're doing everything we can, but we've also had a couple of players and staff member also test positive. So we're on high alert within our team and doing everything we possibly can," he added.

The Philippines did not have striker Sarina Bolden available in their first game against Thailand last Friday over COVID protocols. She returned to play against Australia on Monday, but the Filipinas were still not at full strength. This time, striker Quinley Quezada and veteran goal-keeper Inna Palacios sat out over protocols and injury concerns. 

"Knowing how hard it is to really keep a tight bubble, you know -- we haven't done anything wrong, yet we've had a couple of cases in our team, and it really is difficult. It's the invisible enemy, and it could hit anyone at any moment," said Stajcic.

Co-captain Hali Long said the Filipinas are "trying to stay as safe as possible."

"(We're) trying to keep our bubble tight and secure as much as we can, staying hydrated and just all the crucial things we need to do. Being alone in our rooms and eating in pods," Long told Filipino reporters on Wednesday.

"I wouldn't say it's sacrificing so much, but if you see it that way, it's a sacrifice we just need to do for a short amount of time. Stay safe, healthy and protected to get where we need to be," she added.

The Filipinas have kept their bubble as secure as possible in order to avoid a COVID outbreak during the AFC Women's Asian Cup. Photo courtesy of AFC.
The Filipinas have kept their bubble as secure as possible in order to avoid a COVID outbreak during the AFC Women's Asian Cup. Photo courtesy of AFC.

The Filipinas have three points after two matches in Group B, having beaten Thailand 1-0 before absorbing a 0-4 defeat against Australia. A win against Indonesia on Thursday evening will see them through to the quarterfinals of the tournament.

Even as his squad is on track to advance to the knockout phase, Stajcic also spared a thought to the Indian squad.

"Can I send my best thoughts and wishes and regards to the Indian team. I was really heartbroken for them," said Stajcic. "To see how much preparation they put into the tournament, the fact that they're hosting the tournament, I was really heartbroken for the country and for the team."

"I wish all of the players, first and foremost, a speedy recovery, and I hope that they're all healthy, and any staff members as well," he added. 

"From a football perspective, I just know that they'll know that this is a massive lost opportunity to show their skills in front of their home country. So, from a perspective of them and the tournament, I'm just really sad."

Watch more News on iWantTFC