US training eyed for Pinay footballers ahead of AFC Cup

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 05 2021 04:30 PM

The Philippine national women's football team celebrates after beating Nepal in the qualifiers for the AFC Women's Asian Cup. Photo courtesy of the AFC. 
The Philippine national women's football team celebrates after beating Nepal in the qualifiers for the AFC Women's Asian Cup. Photo courtesy of the AFC. 

MANILA, Philippines -- With the Philippines looking to qualify for the FIFA World Women's World Cup for the first time ever, head coach Marlon Maro is hoping for a strong build-up for his team.

The Philippine national women's football team qualified for the AFC Women's Asian Cup in 2022 after winning Group F of the qualifiers in late September. The team booked thrilling wins over Nepal (2-1) and Hong Kong (2-1) at the JAR Stadium in Tashkent to secure their berth in the continental competition.

This will be the Filipinas' second straight appearance in the AFC Women's Asian Cup. In 2018, they were one match away from qualifying for the FIFA Women's World Cup, but lost to South Korea in the playoff.

The PNWFT has another golden opportunity next year in the Asian Cup set for January 20 to February 6 in India. At stake in the tournament are five slots to the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup that will be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, with Australia already assured of a slot in the showpiece event as hosts. 

"We'll do our best na maging top 5 tayo para makapunta tayo sa World Cup," Maro said after their qualification.

To do this, however, they need to be well prepared for the Asian Cup where 12 of the top teams in the continent will be competing. Maro noted that their build-up to the qualifiers was not the most ideal: most of the team was able to practice in a training camp in Irvine, California, but six players and some coaches were left behind in the Philippines due to visa issues.

"Iba 'yung preparation ngayon, 'no. Never ko na-experience since I started my coaching pathway, coaching career. So nagkaroon ng dalawang section ng preparation," Maro said on Tuesday at the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum.

While a bulk of the team got to train and play friendly matches in California, six players -- Rocelle Mendaño, Anicka Castañeda, Charisa Lemoran, Chelo Hodges, Alyssa Ube, and Alisha Del Campo -- could only join via Zoom.

This cannot be the case for their preparation for the Asian Cup, Maro stressed.

"Hopefully, we can have all the team in California, unlike the first part of the campaign in the group qualifying, na dalawang sections 'yung preparation. We cannot do that here, because in the AFC Cup, the best 12 countries in Asia are present there in India," he said.

The plan for the team is to be in the United States by mid-November, and go straight to India from there.

"Ang patuloy nating ipanalangin, na nawa'y ang mga visas ng mga local players at some other coaches ay makukuha na natin," said Maro.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, routine visa services in the U.S. Embassy in Manila is suspended. 

"They're open only for emergency visits in America. I was informed yesterday that sports activity, conferences and others are not part of emergencies," Maro said.

The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) is seeking help from US Soccer in this regard. What's certain for Maro is that they cannot train in the Philippines, where government restrictions prevent face-to-face training sessions.

"California is the only place where we can train because it's open already. You can do sports, all sports activity there are allowed. And besides that, we can have a lot of friendly matches against good teams," Maro previously said.

"If we prepare in the Philippines, nothing will happen because for sure, because of the government restrictions."