MANILA, Philippines -- For the first time since securing a spot in next year's FIFA Women's World Cup, the Philippine national women's football team will get the opportunity to play in front of their home fans.
The Filipinas will be seeing action in the 2022 AFF Women's Championship, which starts on July 4. All of the PWNFT's matches will take place at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
"I know I can speak for all of the girls, how exciting it is to be playing in the Philippines," said skipper Tahnai Annis, one of many members of the team who will be playing on home soil for the first time.
"We all have family over here, extended family, immediate family. I think it will mean that much more to get to play in front of all of our friends, family and supporters," she added.
The Filipinas have earned plenty of stamps on their passports in the past few months, having played the AFC Women's Asian Cup in India and the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam. Along the way, they held training camps in the United States and Australia.
To prepare for the AFF tournament, they played a friendly against Ireland in Turkey, and two more matches against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Slovenia. They dropped a close loss to higher-ranked Ireland, 0-1, before twice beating Bosnia.
The Filipinas played behind closed doors in the Asian Cup but got to experience a packed stadium during the SEA Games. They are hopeful that they will get a similar atmosphere in the AFF tilt, this time with the home fans backing them.
"We've been playing kind of all over now, and [we] haven't really got to have that home field advantage, home field crowd," said Annis. "I think everyone's just really excited for that."
"I think all of the support we will have will really help us through this long tournament. I know everyone's really excited and really honored to be able to play in the Philippines," she added.
The AFF tournament is extra special for players who are visiting the country for the first time, including Filipino-American center-back Dominique Randle. She made her debut for the PWNFT in the Asian Cup, but was unable to join the team in their short visit to the country after the tournament.
Randle said her family is looking forward to watching the team play, be it live or on screen. At the same time, she sees the tournament as an opportunity to express their gratitude to the fans who have supported them throughout their campaigns this year.
"I think it's really great to feel that familial support now that we're here," she said. "I think we just take every game one step at a time, and hopefully we channel the energy that we have from the fans and our families, and we can show our heart through the way that we play."
"I know I'm really excited and looking forward to playing in front of my family who don't really get a chance to come live to any of our competitions."
Coach Alen Stajcic noted that the past few months have been instrumental in the growth and development of the team, as they played against different squads with different styles of play. In traveling to several countries, they learned how to get over jet lag and maximize the hours leading to their matches.
But the veteran coach also acknowledged how important it is for the Filipinas to play at home, in front of their own fans.
"There's a lot of learning and growth that's happened. So we're really looking forward to the next chapter," he said. "And playing on home soil is something special, and I'm sure something that the players are going to remember for the rest of their lives."
The Filipinas open their AFF campaign on Monday, July 4, against Australia at the Rizal Memorial.