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DATE WITH HISTORY | Filipinas seek first-ever World Cup victory

Members of the national women’s football team (Photo by Nhac NGUYEN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE)

History beckons as the Philippine national women’s team finally makes its debut when it faces Switzerland in the FIFA Women’s World Cup on Friday at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

Kick off is set at 1 p.m. (Manila time) with the Filipinas gunning for their first ever World Cup victory against the seasoned La Nati, who are No. 20 in the latest ranking of the International Football Federation.

The Filipinas, who are at No. 46 in the world ranking, arrived in Dunedin last Thursday and were given a warm welcome by Philippine
ambassador Kira Christianne Azucena.

After Switzerland, the Filipinas will face world No. 26 New Zealand and No. 12 Norway in the preliminaries of Group A for a victory that will send them to the knockout stage. They will be entering the pitch as underdogs as they will be making their first World Cup appearance together with other countries like Vietnam, Ireland, Panama, Haiti, Zambia and Portugal.

They are set to have their hands full against the Swiss, who will be bannered by a seasoned international campaigner in Ana-Maria Crnogorčević.

Playing for FC Barcelona, Crnogorčević has seen action in 145 international matches and serves as La Nati’s best scorer with 70 goals. She is coming off a successful season with the Blaugrana, where she won both the Liga F title and the UEFA Women’s Champions League crown over VfL Wolfsburg, a squad powered by another Swiss ace Noelle Martiz.

Helping Crnogorčević will be Ramona Bachmann of Paris Saint-Germain, who has 57 goals in 130 matches, as well as veteran midfielder
Lia Walti of Arsenal, who made 98 appearances for the Swiss in the international arena.

Manning the goal for Switzerland will be Gaelle Thalmann, who has 100 international matches under her belt.

But despite being stacked against a seasoned Swiss side, Filipinas head coach Alen Stajcic is hardly bothered, saying that their long training and friendly matches against European and Latin American countries boosted their confidence in the biggest and most prestigious football event in the world.

“We’ve been preparing since the day we qualified,” said Stajcic, who guided the Australians in the 2019 edition of the World Cup in France.
“We’re probably one of the first teams to qualify for the World Cup so it has been from ground zero to full throttle. We really hit full throttle playing with teams from all around the globe, different styles of football and different cultures.”

Stajcic said it’s time for them to prove that they belong in the elite circle of football countries. “I know we have given the players every
opportunity to grow and improve as individuals and as a group. I know that the coaching staff has given everything that they can possibly give to hopefully accelerate their growth,” the 49-year-old Australian said.

Midfielder and team captain Tahnai Annis and co-captain and defender Hali Long are expected to lead the 23-woman squad along with forward Bella Flannigan, midfielders Anicka Castañeda, Sara Eggesvik, Quinley Quezada and Jaclyn Sawicki.

Meanwhile, Angela Beard, Reina Bonta and Malea Cesar are tipped to fortify the Filipinas defense with goalkeeper Olivia McDaniel
manning the post.

Walti said the La Nati have to be versatile against the debuting Filipinas.

“The important thing is that we can be variable in the game. I believe that we have to take the game into our own hands and dominate,” Walti
said in a report by the Swiss Football Association.

Livia Peng, for her part, wants them to be alert defensively against Filipinas forwards like Bolden and McDaniel.

“Up front, they have two or three good players who are very fast. We have to be careful,” said Peng, who plays for Werder Bremen in the

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