MANILA, Philippines -- Fresh off a training camp in California, the Philippine women's national football team is optimistic of its chances in the qualifiers for the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup.
The team, headed by coach Marlon Maro, is now in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where they will play on September 18 against Nepal and on September 24 against Hong Kong.
"I'm very, very, very happy because we all tested negative (for COVID-19)," Maro said in a press conference Wednesday.
"We are looking forward to training, to finally prepare the whole team. But actually, the preparation happened in California," he added.
The Philippines will need to top Group F in order to secure their qualification to the AFC Women's Asian Cup, which is scheduled for January 20 to February 6 in India. If successful, it will be their second straight participation in the continental event, having also qualified for the 2018 edition in Jordan.
Already qualified to the Asian Cup are hosts India, as well as Japan, Australia and China, who made up the podium in 2018.
Maro, who was named coach of the women's national team in July, is confident that they can make it, thanks to their strong build-up in California as well as their solid line-up.
Goalkeeper Inna Palacios is back as the team's skipper with defender Hali Long as her co-captain. Several members of the team also saw action for the Philippines in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
"When it comes to the line-up we have, for me, this is the first line-up that we were able to assemble," Maro said. "The product of our age group programs are with us, and it's a combination of seniors and young players."
"We have a combination of big and tall players, from goalkeeper, midfield, and strikers. Especially the strikers, we have very tall and big strikers this time," he added.
The Philippines is the highest-ranked team in their group, as the team is ranked 68th in the latest FIFA rankings. Hong Kong is ranked 78th, and Nepal is at 101st.
"We are very much ready for Saturday," assured Maro, whose team played five friendlies in California in preparation for the qualifiers. "We'll bring the good news when we come back."
The Asian Cup qualifiers also serve as the first phase of qualification for the FIFA World Cup 2023 that will be jointly hosted by New Zealand and Australia. Five teams will qualify directly to the World Cup from the Asian Cup.
Maro said this ultimate goal remains in their mind as they prepare for their matches.
"The goal is to qualify in the Women's World Cup in 2023, and it starts here in Tashkent, to be on top of this competition that starts on Saturday," he said.