Football: Philippines coach Stajcic wants players to earn spot on women’s team

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Jun 30 2022 05:52 AM

Australian coach Alan Stajcic intends to keep the members of the national women’s football pool on their toes until the last moment before he formalizes the cast of 23 players who will present the Philippines in the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand in 2023.

At the same, however, Stajcic wants the Filipinas to experience greater esprit de corps in the build-up to the premier women’s football showcase, a delicate balancing act that requires a lot of tact, diplomacy, coupled with a firm hand once the selection is made. 

“We need that internal rivalry knowing that our players have to perform in earning their jerseys. We don’t want them to be in a comfort zone to think that they have made it,” stressed Stajcic Wednesday in an online press conference organized by the Philippine Football Federation.

Stajcic and the Philippines women’s squad arrived late Tuesday night from their training camp in Europe and will merely have five days to overcome the jet lag before they kick into action against top-rated Australia on July 4 at the start of the 12th ASEAN Football Federation Women’s Championship.

The Filipinas and the Aussies open Group A action at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in the first international competition at the arena in over two years since the 2019 30th Southeast Asian Games football tournament.

The two sides are bracketed in the same group with Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia while Group B is made up defending champion Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Timor Leste. 

“We have a good core of 28 players fighting for those 23 slots (for the World Cup),” noted Stajcic, whose charges made history last February in qualifying for the Women’s World Cup for the first time in reaching the semifinals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup held in India.

The Australian tactician acknowledged that the host side wound up in the toughest group “and against the toughest squad in Australia” so was hoping that playing in front of hometown fans would add more spring to the Filipinas’ steps.

“There is no doubt that we are in the toughest group and get to play the toughest opponent in Australia for our first match,” Stajcic noted.

“We’re excited to compete on home soil. It has been a historic and meteoric rise for the team. It is good for them to play at home and feel a little bit of that home support. We can’t wait for a full stadium to support the group,” he added.

While he did not expect the Matildas to be at full strength “their backup players and bench are very strong. Our players competed against strong clubs when we had our training camp in Australia so they expect a tough match against Australia.”

Skipper Tahnai Aniss, defender Dominique Randle and striker Quinley Quezada were just as ecstatic as Stajcic in playing in front of Filipino fans, who will get to watch all of the games of the Filipinas at the heritage-rich stadium, according to PFF general secretary Atty. Edwin Gastanes, who was present at the briefing. 

“I can speak on behalf of the girls on how excited we are to play in the Philippines. We haven’t had the home field crowd behind us since we have been playing abroad. We hope to make everyone proud,” said the US-based Aniss, who will play on a Philippine pitch for the first time.

“This was one tournament that I particularly encircled. I got to talk to a lot of relatives just to get access and get familial support now that we’re here,” Randle said. 

“We get to channel that energy from support from our families and we can show our heart with the way we play. We’re really excited to play in front of family relatives who are unable to come and witness us live for our competitions abroad,” she explained.

Quezada, who suited up for the national squad in the 30th SEA Games, welcomed the chance to play in front of Filipino fans once again.

“Playing in that same environment just gives us more motivation in going after our goals and doing what we want to do. I am just as excited just like all the others and seeing all our supporters,” said Quezada, who now plays for Red Star Belgrade in Serbia. 

Although preparing to play for next year’s World Cup was “the big picture,” Stajcic did not overlook the importance of the AFF Women’s Cup where the Pinay booters’ best finish has been fourth in the 2019 edition held in Chonburi, Thailand.

“As much as we want to develop, we want to be a winning team as well. Trying to get on that podium is definitely a goal,” the coach said. 

Having been together for seven months, he added, “has been a wonderful journey and wealth of experience so far that these players will remember for a very long time. But we are not getting ahead of ourselves.

“There is a lot of improvement in our game and we are really looking to the next chapter. Playing on home soil is really something special.”