As the Filipinas forge towards their World Cup berth, the players acknowledge that the team’s hard work is motivated to building a solid future for the sport in the Philippines.
While 2022 was a historic year for the Filipinas, 2023 is about to be an even bigger one.
The Philippine Women’s National Football Team, has a busy schedule ahead. They will be competing in three major tournaments, all before the upcoming World Cup in July.
But, even as they keep their eyes locked on their goals for the year, the members of the team all acknowledge that every tournament and every match is just one step towards a bigger outcome that they are gunning for.
“If you look forward past the gaze of the World Cup in six months, as an organization and as a country, you have to look to what you’re doing and what you’re bringing in place for future generations,” Filipinas head coach Alen Stajcic said.
A busy calendar ahead
This year, the Filipinas have a lot to look forward to.
In February, they will be competing in Europe for the very first time at the Pinatar Cup, where they will be facing highly experienced teams from Wales, Scotland, and Iceland.
Following this, in April, they will be vying for a slot in the 2024 Paris Olympics at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. The Filipinas are the highest-ranked team in their group, and they will be facing Hong Kong, Tajikistan, and Pakistan.
Come May, the Filipinas will also be looking to create history for Philippine football yet again at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.
In the last edition of the tournament, the Filipinas secured their first medal in the SEA Games after nearly four decades, finishing with a bronze medal. This year, they will be eyeing the gold.
“Even though we didn’t win, if that’s how bronze felt, how will gold feel?” Hali Long expressed at the recent Philippine Women’s National Football Team media conference.
With three major competitions ahead of them to prep for the World Cup, the Filipinas will be moving forward one step at a time, keeping their eyes on the prize. Long expressed to the media, “We’re not just happy to be here.”
“We look at every tournament as an opportunity to better ourselves and beat how we played the last time because you’re only as good as your last game,” goalkeeper Inna Palacios explained. “We just keep our heads down and work harder as a group.”
Indeed, the Filipinas are heading into the year riding on a momentous run. But, even as they celebrate their victories and focus on their goal for every match, they still acknowledge the impact their team has had on the entire landscape of Philippine football.
Motivating the growth of the sport
At the media conference, senior players Inna Palacios and Hali Long, along with the coaching staff, Alen Stajcic and Nahuel Arrarte, spoke passionately about the growth of Philippine football.
“I myself didn’t go through the youth here in the Philippines, but I did start at a pretty young age myself for the senior team,” Long shared. “So, just seeing how we’ve progressed and developed, and the chapters we have made with this country is phenomenal.”
On the other hand, Palacios, who grew up going through the local youth football program and advancing to the senior national team, feels that this path helped her make the transition.
As she has been working with similar coaches throughout her career, she feels that this continuity in the program is something that will be beneficial to help younger players discover their full potential.
“I’m very happy that we have that, and it’s going to happen,” she said with confidence.
With all the success the Filipinas have seen throughout the past year, they have certainly sparked inspiration among many local players and teams.
“I’m hoping that the senior national team can be the motivating force to start putting some of those things in place,” Stajcic said.
Gazing past the World Cup
The team has emphasized that even as they focus on their goals for the year, their motivation and inspiration come from somewhere further down the line.
“We have all said, time and time again, we have to keep pushing. This is all just a moment of our lives, a moment of our playing careers, but it will last a lifetime for Philippine women’s football,” Hali Long shared.
Meanwhile, Coach Alen Stajcic agreed saying, “My vision is, for anything that I do, it’s not about today, it’s about long term.”
Using Japan as an example, he expressed what he hopes to see in the Philippines in the future. “When [Japan] stuck together and set a plan and unified together as a country, they went from zero to world champions in women’s football in ten or fifteen years,” Stajcic shared.
“You really have to do a deep dive into what’s happening in all the different regions to be able to find unique solutions that will work for the Philippines.”
Ultimately, Stajcic explained that in order to create a sustainable future for football in the Philippines, it comes down to opportunities to play with the right coaches, facilities, and venues, and with these, players will develop. But, he understands that it will take time.
“You could do everything and it just takes time and that’s the hard thing about grassroots—it takes time,” he said. “It’s like planting a tree. You have to plant the seed, see it grow, fertilize it, look after it, and manage it.”
As they continue to make history for the Philippines, the Filipinas are looking ahead, hoping that their success further bolsters the development of the sport locally.
Banner image from Pilipinas WNFT on Instagram.