The Philippine women's national football team is gearing up for a crucial clash against host nation Vietnam in the 31st Southeast Asian Games, in what will be a battle between two teams headed for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup.
Both teams qualified to their maiden World Cup appearances through the AFC Women's Asian Cup earlier this year, with the Filipinas making it to the semifinals while Vietnam advanced through the repechage playoffs.
They get to test each other's strength in the SEA Games, with a capacity crowd expected to welcome the Filipinas at the Cẩm Phả Stadium in Quảng Ninh on Wednesday night.
Kick-off is at 8 p.m., Manila time.
"Look, we've obviously watched each other for a long time. We spent a whole Asian Cup together where they could watch us, and we could watch them," Philippines coach Alen Stajcic said of their upcoming match.
"Ultimately, there's no more secrets in football, with video analysis and scouting and things like that. We've got nothing to hide, and we've watched them play lots of times, and got a lot of respect for the way that they've improved over the last three or four years," he added.
"I think they've improved significantly and become a really good team, and probably the best team in Southeast Asia now."
Vietnam is the defending champion in SEA Games women's football, having beaten Thailand in the gold medal match in Manila in 2019. The Philippines missed out on the podium at home after bowing to Myanmar in the bronze medal game.
The Filipinas rose from that loss to qualify for the Women's Asian Cup where they embarked on a historic run en route to a first ever World Cup appearance.
The 2021 SEA Games marked their first official competition since the Asian Cup and the Filipinas opened their campaign with a 5-0 rout of Cambodia on Monday night. Five different players found the back of the net as the Philippines took an early lead in Group A.
Stajcic acknowledges that Vietnam will have some advantages come Wednesday night as it widl be their first match and they will be playing in front of their home fans.
"We only got a one day rest and back up against Vietnam. So that's definitely an advantage for them. They're coming in fresh, and it's on their home turf, and they hope to have a full crowd here, ready to support them as well," he said.
"I hope that they come out and the stadium is full, and they're supporting both teams. But obviously, the home nation here on Wednesday night, they've got a few advantages, being at home and their first match," he added.
Nonetheless, the Filipinas are up for the challenge against a Vietnam squad ranked 32nd in the world. The Philippines moved to 54 in the FIFA women's rankings after their Asian Cup feat.
"We know we're gonna play against a good team," said Stajcic. "They're very technical, very good footballers… We know it's definitely gonna be a big match. "
"We got a lot of respect for them, but we're an improving nation, and an emerging nation, and we're definitely gonna give them a good fight on Wednesday," he guaranteed.
A draw against Vietnam will be enough to send the Philippines to the semifinals of the women's football tournament.