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Malditas chase quarters berth

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The national women’s football team seeks to finish its preliminary round campaign on a high note when it battles Indonesia in the AFC Asian Cup Thursday at the Shivchatrapati Sports Complex in Mumbai.

Kickoff is set at 10 p.m. with the Malditas looking to clinch the quarterfinal berth against their Southeast Asian rival in this prestigious continental tourney that stakes tickets to the World Cup in Australia next year.

Malditas head coach Alen Stajcic said their main priority is to come up with a stronger performance against the lower-ranked Indonesian side while maintaining their health for the tough grind ahead.

With Australia already assured of a slot in the quarterfinals, the Filipinas are now in a tight race against Thailand for the last spot in the playoffs.

Both Philippines and Thailand carry an identical 1-1 record, but Malditas have the upper hand as they have already beaten the Thais in their opening game.

“I think we proved that we are a hard team to beat, a tough team (with) so much effort. (We) really showed a lot of good qualities that can push us to the next level,” Stajcic said.

“We’re taking extreme caution; we’re doing everything we can. We’re on high alert within our team.”

Despite missing the services of key players Quinley Quezada and Inna Palacios, the No. 64 squad in the latest International Football Federation ranking held its ground against the formidable Australian side before absorbing a 0-4 loss.

Now, Stajcic is expecting a stronger performance from her wards led by strikers Chandler McDaniel, Sarina Bolden and defenders Hali Long and Dominique Randle.

We’re taking extreme caution; we’re doing everything we can. We’re on high alert within our team.

Beating Indonesia, however, will not be easy.

After losing their first two games to Australia and Thailand, the Indonesians are virtually out of contention for a quarterfinal spot.

But Indonesian coach Rudy Priyambada said they are still hungry for a victory and are looking to pull the rug from under the Malditas.

The Philippines and Indonesia last collided in 2018, where they forged a 3-3 draw in the group stage of the AFF Women’s Championship.

“We need more matches so we can learn more. The Philippines has strong and very good players,” Priyambada said.

“We have to prepare against them, they have the power and stamina. I hope our players can compete with them.”

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