Football: Filipinas brace for ‘massive challenge’ against New Zealand

Members of the Philippine Women's National Football Team celebrate after winning the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Women's Championship title at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila on July 17, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Members of the Philippine Women’s National Football Team celebrate after winning the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Women’s Championship title at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila on July 17, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Alen Stajcic expects the Philippine women’s national football team to be greatly tested when they take on New Zealand in a friendly this week in California.

The national team has been training for a week now, with 27 players called up for camp including the core of the squad that won the 2022 AFF Women’s Championship in July. At least four new players have also been added to the group.

They play New Zealand, the co-hosts of next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup along with Australia, on September 6 at the Titan Stadium in California State University, Fullerton (September 7 in Manila).

The Football Ferns, ranked 22nd in the world, will be a step up in competition for the Filipinas.

“For us, it will be a massive challenge. A massive challenge,” Stajcic told local media on Monday morning.

Stajcic is familiar with New Zealand, having played them many times during his stint as head coach of Australia. The Football Ferns feature many players who are playing club football all over the world, including team captain Ali Riley who plays for Angel City FC in the National Women’s Super League (NWSL).

“They’re a good team, they’re an experienced team. They’ve been going to every World Cup and Olympic Games for the last 10 years, a lot of players with over a hundred caps,” said Stajcic. “[They’re] very competitive against the top nations in the world.”

“I don’t think they’ve got to the point yet where they can beat top 10 nations consistently, but they’re certainly someone who gives everyone a hard game. And that’s why they’re ranked so highly,” he added.

New Zealand is coming off a 1-0 win over Mexico in a friendly last Friday in Carson, California, in a match played behind closed doors.

Stajcic said New Zealand will be the toughest team that the Filipinas will play since their campaign in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in February, where they lost to No. 12 Australia and No. 18 South Korea. The Philippines is currently at No. 53 in the FIFA rankings, their highest-ever rating.

“[They] definitely got a lot of pedigree in their team. Their technique and their tactical awareness has improved over the years, and they’re gonna be a tough opponent, there’s no doubt about that,” Stajcic said of New Zealand.

“They’re probably, probably the toughest opponent we’ll play this year after the Asian Cup. I think Australia and South Korea are still a touch ahead of them, but after that, I think they’re definitely the hardest team we’re gonna play,” he added.

The Filipinas have already proven that they can compete — and even dominate — at the Southeast Asian level after their historic campaign in the AFF Women’s Championship in July. Facing a team of New Zealand’s caliber is important in their development heading into next year’s World Cup.

“It’ll be a good yardstick of where we’re at when we play against a team like New Zealand,” Stajcic said. 

“Some of the teams that we played in the AFF were ranked in the 30s and 40s and ranked above us, but this is now the highest-ranked team we’ve played since we played Australia and South Korea at the Asian Cup,” he added. “And [they’re] a team that’s been at every World Cup and Olympics in the last 10 to 15 years.”

“So it’ll be a good match-up for us, for sure.”

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