There will be no holiday break for the Philippine women's national football team as they continue their preparations for the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup in Irvine, California.
The squad has been in California since early November, with new head coach Alen Stajcic leading the way in their training. Aside from working on their skills as well as strength and conditioning, the team has also gotten some much-needed matches, with Stajcic noting that they've played at least four matches already.
"We've got another four or five before we leave to go to India as well," he added.
The AFC Cup will be held from January 20 to February 6, with the Philippines drawn in Group B together with powerhouse Australia, and regional rivals Thailand and Indonesia.
At stake in the tournament are five spots in the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, and the Philippines will need to make the top two in their group in order to secure passage into the knockout stage.
Given the tall task ahead of them, the women's team is ready to continue working through the holidays in order to be as prepared as possible for the Asian Cup.
"This is a very special circumstance, it doesn't come around a lot, and not a lot of people have this opportunity," said striker Tahnai Annis, who scored two important goals in the Asian Cup qualifiers last September in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
"We wish that we could be with our families, but I think that this a time where we all know that sometimes we need to make sacrifices if we want to reach something greater than what we've ever been able to," she added.
"And so I think everyone's more than willing to maybe miss out on a family Christmas this year. But we still are with each other, and I know it will be really great, too."
The team, which recently achieved its highest FIFA Women’s Ranking of 64th earlier this month, has already spent Thanksgiving together in California last month as well.
Stajcic, the former Australia coach, said the players will have Christmas and New Year's Eve off, but will train the rest of the days.
"We're all putting in so much effort. To be honest, I don't use the word sacrifice. We're all preparing, and we're all blessed and grateful to be given this opportunity to go to the Asian Cup and compete for the World Cup," said the coach.
"We're with our football family, and so often in our lives, we spend so much time with our football family. So I'm just blessed that we're part of this group, and have the opportunity to fight together as a unit, to represent the country, and give ourselves every possible chance," he added.
"That's really more important than anything else at this point in time."
The Philippines will open its campaign against Thailand on January 21 at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. They then play Australia on January 24 at the Mumbai Football Arena, before concluding their group round campaign against Indonesia at the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex.
The group will head straight to India from California after wrapping up their camp next month.