National women’s football team head coach Alen Stajcic doesn’t have illusions of grandeur as the Filipinas build up for their participation in the FIFA World Cup in July 2023.
“Whatever group we fall into, it is gonna be a tough group. The teams we’ve got have proven experience in international football so we’re gonna have to punch into their way, be competitive and try to win games,” Stajcic said after the Filipinas found themselves bunched in the company of host New Zealand, Switzerland and Norway.
Ranked No. 53 in the world, the Filipinas are coming off two friendlies with Costa Rica with the Central Americans held to a 1-1 draw the first time before carving out a 2-1 win in the second meeting.
During the recent draw, the Filipinas’ game schedule was already sorted out.
The Swiss will be the Filipinas’ first foes on 21 July at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin followed by the home squad on the 26th in Wellington and the Norwegians on the 30th at Eden Park in Auckland.
“Everyone presents a different challenge and to be honest, I don’t think it makes it easier or harder. What it does do is it gives focus, the ability to plan and prepare,” said Stajcic, a former Australia national women’s team coach.
Norway, rated No. 12 in the world, will parade scoring machine Ada Hegerberg, who won the 2018 Ballon d’Or Feminin.
Hegerberg is also a vital cog on the Olympique Lyon team that won six UEFA Women’s Champions League titles.
Switzerland is likewise a powerhouse unit.
Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, a member of the 2021 UEFA champion FC Barcelona, will beef up the world No. 21 Swiss squad.
New Zealand, one rank below Switzerland, will be the only familiar foe the Filipinas have in the group as they faced each other in a friendly in the United States last September.
The Football Ferns, the nickname of the New Zealand team, beat the Filipinas, 2-1.
“I don’t think there’s any one set strategy for the whole tournament. We’ll have to attack each game as it comes and attack the unique challenges of playing in Dunedin, Wellington, and Auckland,” Stajcic said.
“Playing teams with European culture, I’m pretty confident that those learnings are going to help us come World Cup time.”
Stajcic said while they have to be at their best when the World Cup goes under way, he also wanted the squad to enjoy its first appearance in the competition.
“Ultimately it’s just an exciting experience for all of us, to really embrace this special moment that our country is going to be a part of a football festival that’s hopefully going to be the biggest women’s sporting event in the history of the world,” Stajcic said.