MANILA, Philippines -- A gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games remains out of reach for the Philippine national women's football team, after they fell short in the semifinal on Wednesday at the Cẩm Phả Stadium in Quảng Ninh.
A 0-3 loss to Thailand will keep the Filipinas out of the gold medal game, though they still have a chance at a podium finish. For the second straight SEA Games, they will play Myanmar for the bronze medal.
Head coach Alen Stajcic acknowledged after the loss that Thailand was the better team that day, offering no excuses for a subpar performance from his squad.
"Thailand were the better team and they deserved to win," he said. "Our passing was pretty poor tonight and our marking in the box wasn't very good."
"It was better against Vietnam and today against a good opponent, it wasn't good enough and we were punished," he said.
The Filipinas had beaten Thailand when they played in the AFC Women's Asian Cup in January, a crucial result that propelled them to the quarterfinals of the competition. It was also the first time in 13 matches that they defeated their regional rivals.
But they couldn't repeat the feat in the 31st SEA Games, as the Filipinas wasted some fine opportunities in the first half and struggled to keep up with the Thais' ball movement.
"Thailand were the better team no doubt. Their passing was better, their movement was better, their finishing was better," said Stajcic. "We had lots of chances in the first half especially but we didn't take those chances."
"In the first half, we had five-six chances as well, and in football you have to take those chances to create your own scoreboard pressure," he noted.
Skipper Tahnai Annis sent some good crosses into the box in the first half, including one towards the end that was met well by Hali Long. Unfortunately for the Filipinas, Long's hit was off the mark and Thailand entered the break with a 1-0 lead courtesy of Silawan Intamee's strike in the 22nd minute.
Thailand doubled their lead just two minutes after the restart, with Taneekarn Dangda turning away from Long to fire past Olivia McDaniel. A Ploychompoo Somnuek goal in the 91st completed the victory for the Thais.
"They were the better team, more clinical, better passing, better execution with their movement," said Stajcic. "That's not to say we didn't have our chances… But ultimately, when you're losing, you have to go for the win under pressure."
"We just didn't have enough to get back in the game," he added.
Stajcic believes that this loss is still part of the Filipinas' journey -- one that includes a trip to the FIFA Women's World Cup next year. That they made the World Cup was a historic achievement, but the coach points out that the Philippines still has a way to go to catch up with their neighbors in Southeast Asia.
"This is part of our journey. We're only emerging at this level," he points out. "Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar have been playing at this level for the last 10-12 years."
"That's part of the learning, part of the journey and we've only just started on this journey on this level of football. We haven't been in this level of football for quite a long time," he added.
Thailand made it to the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2015 and 2019, and Vietnam have won the women's football title in the SEA Games six times already. Stajcic noted that their players are far more experienced than the Filipinas, particularly at the international level.
"We're gonna get 4-5 years at this level compared to Vietnam and Thailand," said Stajcic. "These players in Thailand have been to 2 World Cups, 3-4 Asian Cups, they all had more than 100 caps.
"They showed their experience and quality, and for us, it's a learning curve," he added. "We're new at this level and we'll get better. We have no fear about that."
The Filipinas will play Myanmar for the bronze on Saturday. In the 2019 SEA Games, they lost 1-2 to Myanmar in the third-place match.