Football: PH’s Asian Cup run is ‘best experience’ of Stajcic’s coaching career

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 04 2022 01:14 AM

Philippines head coach Alen Stajcic during their AFC Women's Cup semifinal against Korea Republic. AFC photo.
Philippines head coach Alen Stajcic during their AFC Women's Cup semifinal against Korea Republic. AFC photo.

The Philippines' campaign in the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 is an unforgettable one for the players, the Filipino fans, and the stakeholders of the sport.

For the first time ever, the Philippines are headed to the FIFA Women's World Cup, having secured qualification after a heart-stopping win against Chinese-Taipei in the quarterfinal that had to be settled via penalty shootout.

A 2-0 loss to South Korea in the semifinal on Thursday night brought their campaign to a close, but the Filipinas can leave India with pride, having made footballing history for the country several times over.

"When you create history almost every time you step on the field," head coach Alen Stajcic said afterward, "There's nothing more you can ask."

Stajcic took over the Philippine women's football program just last October, some two years after a contentious sacking from the Australian women's national team. He took charge of a training camp in Irvine, California, where the Philippines also conducted tryouts. 

His impact on the team has been undeniable, and the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) made it clear that they plan on pulling out all stops to ensure that Stajcic will remain with the program until next year's World Cup.

Stajcic, 48, has made no comment about his contract status with the Philippines but his thoughts on their campaign in India should give Filipinos hope.

"I think this is probably the best experience, I think, in my coaching career," the Australian coach said. "I've been coaching for 20 years."

"To take this group who are so dedicated, so determined, so much discipline, so much heart, so much spirit, considering what they've had to overcome to this point," he added. "I don't think I've ever had to coach a group who's had so many hurdles to overcome just in the preparation, let alone the tournament."

Philippines defender Hali Long (5) in action against South Korea's Lee Min A. AFC photo.
Philippines defender Hali Long (5) in action against South Korea's Lee Min A. AFC photo

Women's football in the Philippines has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the PFF having to halt its Women's League for two seasons now. There are also locally-based players who could not make the training camp in California over visa issues.

Yet the Filipinas came to India armed with a rallying cry -- "Remember the goal" -- and achieved it in historic fashion.

That they fell short against South Korea is no cause of shame for the Filipinas, especially considering their effort in the semifinal according to Stajcic.

"To get to this level, and to fight and compete up until the last kick of a semifinal is truly just such a remarkable effort," said Stajcic. "It's really emotional, watching them try right to the last second of the game."

"There are so many teams who would have given up and thrown in the towel," he noted.

"It has been a wonderful experience getting to know every player, every member of our staff. It's such a unified group, such a close group, and again, as I said before, it's no surprise that the whole country back home in the Philippines is really proud of the group," he added.

The question now is what's next for the Filipinas and for Stajcic. The PFF has already lined up three more tournaments for the squad -- the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam in May, the AFF Women's Championship in the Philippines in July, and the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China in September.

Stajcic had no answers for these questions in the immediate aftermath of their loss to Korea Republic, but is confident that these matters will be taken care of.

"Obviously, it's all very fresh at the moment, and you know, gotta let everything settle down," he said. "But I'm sure that will all be sorted in the next two or three weeks."

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