Women’s Asian Cup: Philippines, Thailand have a lot to play for in opener

Mumbai, Jan 20 (IANS) When it comes to women’s football, the Philippines have found the Thailand team a tough nut to crack. The Philippines have not beaten Thailand in 12 previous encounters and when the two sides meet in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup here on Friday, manager Alen Stajcic’s side will be hoping to set the record straight and break the unwanted jinx.

Thailand are ranked 39th in the World and have won the Asian Cup once, way back in 1983 at home, Philippines are ranked 68th in the World and had finished 6th in the previous edition in 2018, their best performance so far.

Despite the overwhelming odds, Philippines’ coach Stajcic is optimistic about his team’s chances as they aim to advance from the group stage for the second time following their sixth-place finish in 2018.

“We are excited to be here playing against the best in Asia and we are here to try to create history for Philippines football,” said Stajcic. “We want to make the most out of our campaign here in India.”

With Tokyo Olympics semi-finalists Australia and 96th-ranked Indonesia as their other opponents in Group B, the Philippines are concentrating on the match against Thailand as winning it will put them on course for a place in the quarter-finals.

“We’re putting all our energy and focus on the match (against Thailand). But we’re looking at ourselves, to be honest, preparing the best we can and being ready for whatever happens.

“I know it’s a cliche but if you look too far ahead you can sometimes lose a bit of focus so we’re focused on our own preparation.”

The team is quite experienced as the majority of their 23-member squad were part of the 2018 Asian Cup campaign in which they were edged out of a FIFA World Cup slot after losing to South Korea in the playoffs.

After topping their group in the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the Philippines set up camp in Irvine, California before flying to Mumbai last week.

While the Philippines are hoping to set the record straight, Thailand are confident of making it to the quarter-finals as they are the second highest-ranked team in the group behind Australia.

Thailand coach Miyo Okamoto is confident going into Friday’s clash, stating his charges have prepared well for the tournament.

“We have been training for quite a while after the qualifiers,” said Okamoto. “The players have worked well together during our sessions and each player can replace the other, so we will plan for all eventualities in each game.”

Though Thailand haven’t played any official matches since the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers, coach Okamoto insisted that his players do not need time to reach their maximum potential.

“We know that the first game (against the Philippines) is a very important game for us, so we will do everything we can and hope for the result we want, even though we have not played competitively since the qualifiers.”

Taneekarn Dangda, Pikul Khueanpet, Sunisa Srangthaisong, and Silawan Intamee are just some of the Thailand players with FIFA World Cup experience under their belts and Okamoto believes that exposure will help the team through this tournament.

“Many of our players in this squad have played in the FIFA World Cup, and that has helped them with their confidence ahead of this match and for the tournament.

“Our long-term goal is to make it to the FIFA World Cup.”

The match against the Philippines will be the first step towards the target and Thailand will have to be at their best in the opener.

–IANS

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