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Malditas chase Asian Cup spot

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SARA Castañeda and the national women’s football team shoot for a slot in the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF MALDITAS

After more than a year of inactivity, the women’s national football team is ready to go all out when it sees action in the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers in Tashkent, Uzbekistan starting Saturday.

Malditas head coach Marlon Maro said the squad is all fired up, eager to come up with a strong performance to grab a ticket to the prestigious continental tourney next year.

Maro is confident that they have a strong chance of making it to the Asia Cup after assembling the best team for the country.

The Nationals are tipped to face Nepal on 18 September followed by Hong Kong on 24 September.

“This is definitely a new team, an exciting team to watch. And they are very motivated,” Maro, whose squad last saw action in the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 2019, said.

“When it comes to the lineup, I think this is the best lineup that we were able to assemble. It’s a combination of young and senior players.

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions in the country, the Nationals decided to open a two-month training camp and tryouts in Irvine, California, before flying to Uzbekistan for the final stretch of their preparations.

The squad will banner a 22-woman lineup led by skipper Inna Palacios together with SEA Games veteran defenders Hali Long, Chelo Hodges, Tara Shelton, and Patricia Tomanon, midfielders Sara Castañeda, Cam Rodriguez, and Charisa Lemoran, and striker Alisha del Campo.

Also seeing action are 2018 Asian Cup booters Ryley Bugay, Tahnai Annis, Castañeda, Jessica Miclat, and fellow returnees Anicka Castañeda, Sofia Harrisson and Rocelle Mendano.

Completing the cast are newcomers Arianna LePage, Isabelle Mapanao, Olivia McDaniel, Malea Cesar and striker Chandler McDaniel.

Only the top-ranked teams in each pool will join defending champion Japan, Australia, China and host team India for the Women’s Asian Cup in Mumbai in January 2022.

The top five teams in the Asian Cup will automatically qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia in 2023.

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