THE national women’s football team feels it is very much qualified to participate in the Southeast Asian Games set in Myanmar this December.
Malditas skipper Mareille Benitez believes the team has a very strong chance of landing a podium finish considering its impressive performance last month in the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup qualifiers, where it barely missed a berth to the main tournament after finishing a strong second among four teams.
“With the team that we have now, there’s really a big chance that we can actually win a medal. Based on our last competition, kayang-kaya,” Benitez said.
Women’s football was not held in the 2011 SEA Games.
Thailand, losing finalist in the 2009 edition of the biennial meet, barely beat the Malditas, 1-0, in the Asian Cup qualifiers last month.
Based on the criteria made by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), only medal winners in the last SEA Games will be eligible for inclusion in the Philippine team.
The Filipina booters last competed in the SEA Games in 2007 when they missed a spot in the knockout stage after finishing last among three teams in Group A.
The women’s division in the meet has no age limit unlike in the men’s side, which allows only players who are 23-and-under.
Malditas coach Ernie Nierras stressed the importance of the women’s team inclusion while lamenting the old-fashioned criteria repeatedly being adopted for inclusion in the Philippine contingent.
“Wala kaming record sa SEA Games kasi hindi kami pinapadala eh. Pano kami magkaka-record? It’s a chicken-and-egg thing.”
“We cannot guarantee a medal eh. There’s no such thing. You have to play the games,” Nierras added.
In the event the women’s team is not considered for the SEA Games, Nierras said there is a contingency plan to host a tournament in the country late this year similar to the Peace Cup last season.
“Hopefully things will work out. We’re not losing hope. The PFF (Philippine Football Federation) is working really hard in making sure that PSC and POC are aware of what we’ve been able to do.”
The Malditas’ recent showing factored heavily in their rise in the Fifa (International Football Federation) rankings this month, which saw them jump seven places to 76th in the world.
The Filipina booters will next compete in the Asean Football Federation Women’s Championships in September when they face the likes of Indonesia, the Japanese U-23 team, host Myanmar, and Laos.
The Australian U-19 team and the Jordan national team are the other non-Asean guest teams seeing action in the tournament.
As part of their preparations, the Malditas are set to embark on a two-week US training camp late next month.
A friendly against their Haitian counterparts in August also in the States is likewise in the works.
“I’m very excited because we have all these preparations. We’re definitely a team to watch out for in the AFF,” Benitez said.