MANILA, Philippines -- The players of the Philippine women's national football team have made great strides over the past few months, but their coach believes that they can reach an even higher level.
Alen Stajcic recently lauded the "encouraging" results performances of the Filipinas, which included a bronze medal in the 31st Southeast Asian Games and a slim 1-0 defeat to higher-ranked Ireland, as well as a pair of victories against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
However the coach was also quick to note that there is plenty of work left to be done as they continue to prepare for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup -- starting with the AFF Women's Championship that kicks off tomorrow at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
"We're progressing," Stajcic said in a recent press conference. "We're [an] evolving and an emerging team."
"[But] we're not getting ahead of ourselves," he also said. "Certainly, the results we had in Europe were encouraging. I thought we played really well in certain aspects of the game, and the players and the group really know the areas that we did well in."
"But we're also really focused on the areas we didn't do so well, and we know how much more we have to improve."
Stajcic highlighted the improved fitness of the Filipinas, noting that this was something they emphasized after their campaign in the AFC Women's Asian Cup. He was also proud of the mental resilience that they displayed, particularly in the SEA Games where they battled back from a goal down to stun Myanmar in the bronze medal match.
"In my time with the team, we've never come back from being behind before. Up until that Myanmar game, and that Myanmar game, we turned it around at halftime," he said.
"Whether that's mentality or luck or just the passion and drive to fight to the death, whatever it is, there's now belief that we can come from behind," he added.
They held onto that belief in their friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina last week, when they scored twice in the final five minutes to overturn a one-goal deficit.
"To do that again the other night against Bosnia, away from home, it was also really pleasing to see," said Stajcic. "So it's not just the physical parts of the game but also the mentality parts of the game, and also the culture within the group to wanna fight to the death and push for a winner."
Still, Stajcic wants to see the Filipinas keep moving forward, especially with the World Cup coming up next year. The Philippines qualified for the showcase event for the first time in February, when they reached the semifinals of the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022.
"There's a lot of room for improvement in our game, and we're working hard at training every single time, with video sessions and all kinds of different methods of ensuring that everyone gets up to speed with becoming the best team we can be," said the coach.
"We're really happy with the progression, we always are," he added. "There's a lot of learning and growth that's happened. So we're really looking forward to the next chapter."
The next chapter is the AFF Women's Championship, which the Filipinas open on Monday against Australia's Under-23 team. Stajcic says the team is determined to deliver another podium finish, after their breakthrough in the SEA Games where they won a medal for the first time in over 30 years.
"As much as development's important, we wanna be a winning team and have a winning mentality. So trying to get on that podium is definitely a massive priority," Stajcic said.
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