Football: Stajcic wary of youthful Australia in AFF opener

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 03 2022 06:41 PM

The Philippine women's national football team in training. Photo courtesy of the PWNT.
The Philippine women's national football team in training. Photo courtesy of the PWNT.

MANILA, Philippines -- Australia may not have its superstars but the Matildas remain the favorites in the AFF Women's Championship, says Philippines head coach Alen Stajcic on the eve of their showdown.

The Filipinas will play the Matildas in their first game of the tournament, with kick off scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. 

Australia, the hosts of next year's FIFA Women's World Cup, will not have the likes of Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord, but they called up their "brightest young prospects" for the tournament, according to head coach Melissa Andreatta who will be calling the shots for the 28-woman squad, which 

Among these are FC Rosengård's Charlotte Grant, who suited up for Australia in the AFC Women's Asian Cup earlier this year, as well as midfielder Amy Sayer who plays for Stanford. The Matildas are making their first appearance at the AFF tilt since 2018, when their Under-20 squad finished second to Thailand.

"No doubt, they are probably still the favorite for this tournament, regardless of who they brought," Stajcic said during Sunday's pre-match press conference. 

"Whether they are under-23, 24, or 33, it doesn't matter," he added. "Most of their players in the national team all debuted at 16, anyway, or 17 years of age. Age isn't really an issue. It's really quality on the pitch."

The Filipinas do have some experience in playing against Australia, having given them a tough challenge in the Asian Cup last February before absorbing a 4-0 defeat. A bulk of the players from that team will still feature in the AFF Women's Championship, including strikers Sarina Bolden and Quinley Quezada, Sweden-based professional Katrina Guillou, and stalwart defenders Hali Long and Dom Randle.

For many of the players of the Philippine women's national football team, this will be their first time playing on home soil since qualifying for the FIFA Women's World Cup.

"I know I can speak for all of the girls, how exciting it is to be playing in the Philippines," captain Tahnai Annis said. "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."

Stajcic said that they relish the opportunity not just to play at home but also to keep testing themselves against tough opposition, starting with Australia on Monday. The Filipinas will also play Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia in Group A where the top two teams will advance to the knockout phase.

"They're a very good squad," Stajcic said of Australia. "It's gonna be a good experience for our team."

Also on Monday, it will be Singapore and Malaysia at 4:00 p.m. at the Rizal Memorial, while Indonesia and Thailand will play at 7:00 p.m. at the Biñan Football Stadium.