(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s May 30 edition)
After a strong online following in their matches during the AFC Women’s Asian Cup and the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, where they both set a couple of firsts, the Malditas will finally get to play at home in the 12th edition of the AFF Women’s Championship in Laguna from July 4 to 17.
This year, the Filipinas have blazed quite a trail, earning a World Cup spot for the first time last January when they made the semifinals of the AFC Asian Cup in India, and winning the bronze medal for the first time in the SEA Games with a comeback win against Myanmar.
They say it’s the first bronze medal for the Philippines in SEA Games football in 37 years but for me, it’s the first bronze medal we won in women’s football, period. In 1984, there were only three women’s teams, so the bronze was a sure thing. Last month in Vietnam, the ladies had to earn that bronze and earn it, they did.
The Philippines is in Group A, together with tough rivals Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. In case you’re wondering, Australia isn’t a guest team, it has been a member of the Asean Football Federation since 2013.
After moving from Oceania to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, Australia joined the AFF in 2013, a move supported by all members because of the premise that the Socceroos wouldn’t join the highly popular Suzuki Cup, now rebranded as the Mitsubishi Electric Cup. While it joins some of the youth tournaments in the AFF, Australia usually sends its youth team for the AFF Women’s tournament.
In the last AFF Women’s Cup edition, the Philippines finished fourth after losing to Vietnam in the semifinals, 2-1, and to Myanmar in the battle for third, 3-0. Australia didn’t join that edition.
A year prior, Australia’s U20 team made it all the way to the finals, with the Malditas missing on a final fourth spot with a third-place finish in Group B. How does coach Alen Stajcic see our chances this year?
He offered a generic, “Looking forward to playing in front of our home fans and against the best teams in Southeast Asia. Another great opportunity for this team to be tested so that we can learn, grow and improve.”
It remains to be seen if Australia will be sending its U20 team again or if it will use the event as part of its preparation for the Women’s World Cup next year. (Or if there’s a gentlemen’s agreement between Australia and the then 11-member AFF in 2013 that the powerhouse won’t be sending its senior teams in both the men’s and women’s championships.)
If it does send its senior squad, I think the safest bet would be to target the No. 2 spot in Group A and hope we can overturn that 3-0 loss to Thailand in the semifinals of the SEA Games.
Another great opportunity for this team to be tested so that we can learn, grow and improve.Allen Stajcic