THE Philippines hopes to overcome all the pressure in its much-awaited FIFA Women’s World Cup debut as it plays Switzerland in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Despite being the overwhelming underdogs, the Filipinas are expected to be in high spirits, hoping that their grueling 18-month preparations will pay off against the La Nati in their 1 p.m. clash (Manila time) at the 30,000-capacity arena that was a site of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
“We just want to be attainable, reachable for the Philippines back home. We dreamt about this and hopefully (Filipinos back home) they can dream something like this,” said co-captain Hali Long during yesterday’s pre-match press conference.
“Being a Filipino in any sport, you’re the underdog, but that’s where we thrive,” she added.
The team has already settled down in Dunedin hours after a deadly shooting near several team hotels in Auckland overshadowed yesterday’s opening day of the tournament.
The incident, which left two victims and the gunman dead, occurred close to the hotels of reigning two-time champions the United States, as well as the Philippines and Norway.
“All members of the Philippine Women’s National Team delegation at the FIFA Women’s World Cup are safe,” the team posted through its social media accounts.
The Philippines seeks to join co-hosts New Zealand, which defeated Norway, 1-0, for the early Group A lead.
The Football Ferns, who turned to Hannah Wilkinson’s 48th minute goal to earn their first-ever World Cup win, will be the Filipinas’ next opponent on Tuesday in Wellington.
The Philippines is among the eight debutants in the world’s biggest women’s football showpiece that has grown to 32 teams.
The Filipinas have a combined 569 appearances for the women’s national team, and a combined tally of 129 goals, but this historic moment is something to be relished of.
All the sweat and tears from the time the Philippines qualified after reaching it to the AFC Asian Cup semifinals early last year will come through this.
“We’ve got to fast track all that development into a year and half and it’s tough. But I know we go to the starting line in every game thinking we can win and believing we can win. Now that we’ve done everything, we can prepare to be confident in that way and have that belief,” said national coach Alen Stajcic.
Aside from the Philippines, Southeast Asian rival Vietnam, Haiti, Morocco, Panama, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, and Zambia are also all set to make their first World Cup appearance.
Like the Filipinas, the dreams of other teams reaching the knockout phase, if recent tournament history is a gauge, will take a lot of hardwork to make it a reality.
Since the 2003 edition in the United States, none of the 17 teams have made tournament debuts managed to reach the quarterfinals in the years since. Only three of those teams have managed to advance beyond the group phase at the first attempt.
Eleven of those 17 sides failed to win a match at their debut tournaments.
The six teams who did score a victory on their maiden appearances were France in 2003, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Cameroon and Thailand at Canada in 2015, and Chile at France in 2019.
Only one debutant has advanced to the knockout phase as a top-two finisher in their group, Cameroon in 2015.
With all the tremendous odds stacked as first-time participants, the Philippines hopes to make the country proud and compete against the world’s best.
The preliminary round matches of the Filipinas will be aired on free TV via One Sports (free-to-air Channel 41 and Cignal Channel 6) and also available for free via Cignal’s newest platform, Pilipinas Live.
The Philippine Football Federation will have a viewing party in the Filipinas first-ever FIFA World Cup match against the La Nati at the Ayala Malls Manila Bay at 1 p.m.