A history-making tournament to remember for Stajcic and his Philippines squad

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It has been a momentous six months for the Philippines Women’s National Team as they set their sights on their first World Cup berth, with head coach Alen Stajcic playing a major role in the side’s success.

It all began when the squad qualified for the Asian Cup in September after a tough group stage against Hong Kong and Nepal.

Late winners in these two matches saw them do enough to qualify for India, however expectations were low heading into the tournament.

As the 64th ranked team in the world and the 13th in Asia, many saw an improvement on their sixth place finish achieved four years earlier as unlikely.

Before Stajcic was announced as their head coach heading into India 2022 in October, and with hard work, commitment, courage and a lot of talent the side were able to exceed even the most lofty of expectations.

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They defeated rivals Thailand for the first time in history, before beating Indonesia to qualify for their maiden knockout rounds.

Drawn against Chinese Taipei for a spot in the World Cup, a team some 25 places higher in the world rankings, they again did the unimaginable.

A penalty shootout win saw them qualify for the semi-finals, and despite losing to South Korea 2-0, they now look ahead to a maiden World Cup campaign in just 18 months time.

Beyond proud is the only way that Stajcic could describe his feelings towards the playing group, with whom he has been with since their training camp began in October last year.

“You know there’s an amazing amount of heart and courage built into this group and I’m proud of them,” he said.

“I know that our coaching staff are all proud and I think everyone back home in the Philippines should be so proud of this group who have come such a long way in such a short space of time.”

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With this success has come unprecedented media attention back in the Philippines, with their quarterfinal and semi-final being aired on free-to-air television.

The likes of Vice President Leni Robredo and the honourable Manny Pacquiao have congratulated the team on their achievements, whilst billboards of the squad have been plastered around major cities.

It is not just those famous faces and the locals of the Philippines who rank this tournament as their best in history.

When asked about how highly this tournament sits in his coaching career, which includes multiple Asian Cup finals and the turnaround of the Central Coast Mariners, Stajcic was clear about how enjoyable it was.

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“This is probably the best experience I think I’ve had in my coaching career,” he said.

“I’ve been coaching for 20 years and to take this group who are so dedicated, so determined, have so much heart and so much spirit. Considering what they have had to overcome to get to this point, I don’t think I’ve ever had to coach a group that has had so many hurdles to overcome just in the preparation let alone the tournament.”

This heart and belief has only grown over the tournament, with Stajcic crediting their performances over the campaign as the key catalyst behind them now believing that they belong at this level.

“I don’t think that they truly believed that they could compete at this level at the beginning of the tournament. There have been so many special and amazing moments that have added to the confidence of this group,” he said.

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Their first win against Thailand presents itself as a pivotal moment, when the relatively inexperienced group were able to defeat a team that had always been seen as untouchable.

That 1-0 win set them up for the tournament, and was just one of the numerous times that the squad punched above their weight to achieve greatness.

“When you create history almost every time you step on the field, you can’t ask for anything more. To get to this level, to fight and compete up until the last kick of a semi-final is just truly a remarkable effort,” he said.

“It’s emotional watching them try right to the last second, it’s been a wonderful experience getting to know every player and every member of our staff.”

Whilst Stajcic has not officially announced that he will be continuing as coach, instead waiting until after the tournament to announce his decision, the Philippines board have already stated their intention to keep him on heading into the World Cup.

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Even if he does decide to leave, he has helped to mould this squad into one that truly deserves to be competing against the best next year.

Stajcic is confident that whilst the team has some way to go in the next 18 months, they will certainly be ready to compete in 2023.

“We now have 18 months to prepare for the World Cup and to ensure that we do everything that we possibly can as a country to get the maximum possible chance to perform on that stage,” he said.

“There is no doubt that there are plenty of elements in the game that we have to improve on. However, in terms of belief, confidence, effort and heart this group is already world class.”

Feature Image Credit: AFC

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William Makepeace
Current Intern covering Canberra United. Sports Media student at University of Canberra who lives and breathes Football

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