FIFA World Cup slots up for grabs

Filipinas head coach Alen Stajcic (middle) and national team mainstays Inna Palacios (left) and Hali Long (second from right) brace for a tough grind in the next few months in preparation for the FIFA World Cup in New Zealand. Also lending a hand to the team’s bid are assistant coach Nahuel Arrarte (right) and team manager Jefferson Cheng. Photo by Ivan Suing / Daily Tribune

The final composition of the Philippine national women’s football team to the FIFA World Cup in New Zealand will be made up of those who will stand out in three major meets taking place in the next few months.

Head coach Alen Stajcic revealed on Wednesday that the Pinatar Cup in Murcia, Spain, next month, the Olympic qualifiers in April, and the 32nd Southeast Asian Games in Phnom Penh in May will be used as a yardstick to determine who would make the WC-bound team in August.

“We now have a pool of about 30 to 35 players. The toughest part of this journey is gonna be that 10 to 12 players who have been with the squad, and have been a part of the regular squad are not gonna be selected for the World Cup,” Stajcic said during a media briefing at the Acacia Hotel in Alabang.

“I think we’ve seen during the course of the year, regardless of who’s playing, you’ll see the same mentality, the same philosophy, the same motivation and drive from the players and, to a certain extent, the level of performance. I’m really proud that we’ve got to that level,” he said.

After being exposed to world-caliber teams the past year, the Filipinas, the monicker of the team, have been installed as heavy favorites in the Olympic qualifiers as well as in the SEA Games taking place from 5 to 17 May.

Ranked No. 53 in the world, the Filipinas are the teams to watch out for alongside Vietnam, rated No. 34.

Stajcic feels it was nice seeing the team being afforded a lofty standing but he nonetheless warns that competitions in the SEAG is quite unique given age restrictions on players.

“In terms of the Olympic qualifiers and the SEA Games, I see them as almost unique in separate ways. The first phase of the Olympic qualifiers, for the first time, we will be going as the favorites,” Stajcic said.

“That will be a big challenge for the group. The SEA Games presents a different kind of uniqueness in terms of we don’t know who will be available for that.”

The Filipinas are sorted in Group E in the Olympic qualifiers with Hong Kong at No. 77, Tajikistan at No. 144, and Pakistan at No.160.

Over the past few months, the Filipinas have been everywhere, training and competing in the United States and exotic locales like Costa Rica and Chile.

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