MANILA, Philippines -- If all goes according to plan, the Philippine Women's National Football Team should be able to qualify for the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2023 -- in what would be a first for the country's football program.
This is the dream of PWNFT head coach Marlon Maro, who believes the Filipinas have a strong chance of earning one of the five slots to the World Cup at stake in next year's AFC Women's Asian Cup in India.
"The goal is to play in the Australia/New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup," Maro stressed on Tuesday's Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum.
Australia and New Zealand are co-hosting the showcase event, and the Matildas are already assured of a place in the tournament.
Five more teams will qualify through the Asian Cup next year, where the Philippines will compete with 11 of the top sides in the continent. The Filipinas secured their spot in the Asian Cup after topping Group F late last month.
"This is our best chance to arrive in that World Cup, so kailangan, ito na. Palalakasin na lang 'yung team, at kaunting adjustment sa plano para makuha natin," Maro said.
"Kailangan natin na makarating tayo sa World Cup," he also said. "For 100 years and more ng founding ng Philippine Football Federation, since 1907, hindi pa nakatawid tayo doon sa World Cup."
The Filipinas' chances of playing in the 2023 World Cup increased when the FIFA increased the field from 24 teams to 32. In 2018, the PWNFT were one match away from securing a spot in the 2019 FIFA World Cup in Paris, when they lost to South Korea, 5-0, in a playoff.
This time around, Maro is more optimistic about their chances.
He noted that Australia is already qualified, while traditional powerhouses like Japan, South Korea, and China should also be able to clinch their World Cup spots. That leaves, in Maro's opinion, two berths for countries like the Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, and others to fight for.
"I see a good chances talaga na makuha natin ngayon," he said. "(We have to) strengthen the line-up, to make sure na we can be one of the two slots available for AFC in the World Cup."
The Philippine team's performance in the group stages in Uzbekistan boosts Maro's confidence. The Filipinas booked identical 2-1 wins over Nepal and Hong Kong, each time scoring a late goal to assure themselves of victory.
The coach stressed that the PWNFT must beef up their backline and wingers, as well as get enough time to prepare for the Asian Cup. As it stands, they are targeting a mid-November camp in Irvine, California, before flying out to India for the tournament.
"You don't need to be a champion (in the Asian Cup)," Maro said. "You don't need to win all the matches, but to win some matches and be in the Top 5 or Top 4."
"Because if you check for now, if you ask me, can we beat Japan? Can we beat Korea? I saw Korea, they're strong but I think we have a chance. Can we beat China? Cannot, by the moment," he admitted.
"But can we beat Vietnam, Thailand, Chinese Taipei, Myanmar, India, Iran and Indonesia? If you ask me now, I say to you, yes," he added. "As a coach, I can say yes, if we can have that complete roster, I can say to you, yes."
"I'm basing (on) the performance in Uzbekistan. Just give us more time to play and train together, and we will come up to that result."
Maro has assured that goal-scorers Tahnai Annis and Chandler McDaniel will be available for the Asian Cup, as well as pro players Sarina Bolden and Quinley Quezada, who are both playing in Japan's WE League.