MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine National Women's Football Team is hopeful of a breakthrough campaign in the upcoming Southeast Asian Games, though they insist that their full focus remains on the AFC Women's Asian Cup first.
The Filipinas will have a busy 2022 as they will compete in the Women's Asian Cup in India from January 20 to February 6, in the hopes of clinching a spot in the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.
And in May, they will play in the SEA Games in Vietnam where they hope to finally make the podium.
"Actually… wala sa mindset ko pa 'yung SEA Games," said Philippines coach Marlon Maro recently when asked about the Filipinas' prospects in the biennial competition.
"Focused po kami sa Asian Cup," added assistant coach Rose Ton Barinan, while midfielder Rocelle Mendaño stressed that they are taking competitions "one step at a time."
"'Yung focus po namin is sa second round," Mendaño said, referring to the continental championships in India where there are five spots at stake to the Women's World Cup that will be held in New Zealand and Australia in 2023.
But Maro assured that the Philippines will field a highly competitive side in Vietnam that should be capable of keeping up with the regional powers.
The Filipinas were heartbroken in the 2019 edition of the event, as they lost to Myanmar, 2-1, in the bronze medal match. Quinley Quezada had given the Philippines a 1-nil lead in the 57th, only for Myanmar to pounce on their defensive breakdowns and score two goals in the span of three minutes.
"Kung tatanungin mo ako kung by this time, kaya na ba 'yung team, with this group of players that we have now? I think it's much, much more competitive than the last SEA Games team," Maro said of his squad.
The Filipinas had qualified to the Asian Cup after topping Group F of the qualifiers last month, showcasing their poise in the clutch by scoring late goals against Nepal and Hong Kong to book thrilling victories.
The Philippines grabbed the wins even without Quezada and Sarina Bolden, two key players from the 2019 SEA Games team who are now playing as professionals in Japan's WE League. Both are expected to be available in the AFC Women's Asian Cup.
If they can also play in the SEA Games alongside rising star Chandler McDaniel and veterans such as Camille Rodriguez, Sara Castañeda, and captains Hali Long and Inna Palacios, Maro says the sky is the limit for the team.
"I can only speak, 'pag ito 'yung composition ng team, yes," he said when asked of a possible podium finish.
"Pero I cannot tell you the finality on it, because hindi ko alam kung sino magko-coach ng SEA Games na 'yan. Hindi ko pa alam," he added.
The PNWFT is expected to leave for the United States by mid-November in order to prepare for the AFC Women's Asian Cup.