Filipinas set for historic FIFA WWC debut vs. Switzerland

Filipinas coach Alen Stajcic (right) is greeted as the national women's football team arrives at the Dunedin International Airport on the even of their first FIFA Women's World Cup  Group A match against Switzerland on Friday.
By Dugout Philippines

AUCKLAND–Thoroughly prepared and properly motivated, the Filipinas finally make their highly-anticipated debut in FIFA Women’s World Cup Friday as they open their campaign in Group A against Switzerland at the Forsyth Barr Stadium under expected nippy weather in Dunedin.

Despite being the overwhelming underdogs, they are expected to be in high spirits, hoping that their grueling 18-month preparations will pay off against the La Nati in their 5 p.m. clash (1 p.m. Manila time) at the 30,000-capacity arena that was a site of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

They arrived in the city considered New Zealand’s wildlife capital Thursday afternoon and were met by some Filipino expats at the Dunedin International Airport, the Philippine Embassy of New Zealand reported, posting pictures of the national women football team’s arrival on its Facebook account.

Currently ranked No. 46 in the FIFA women’s world rankings, Australian coach Alen Stajcic’s charges are not only facing a tough side 20 rungs above them but also will brace for the bone-chilling weather there that has been averaging 7-degree Celsius (44.6-degree Fahrenheit) in the past few days.

But with international seasoning and experience that saw them training and competing in the US, Europe, Asia and South America, the Filipinas won’t be awestruck by the moment and enter the opening match with a nothing-to-lose attitude in the outing supported by the Philippine Sports Commission.

Apparently peaking at the right moment, they enter the fray having won five of their last matches, their recent loss a 1-5 setback to Sweden in a closed-door unofficial friendly here last Monday when Stajcic likely held his players under a tight leash given the proximity of their first match.   

If anything, it will be the wards of German coach Inka Grings, making their second appearance in the football showcase, who might feel the pressure, having lost their last seven matches since booking a World Cup ticket with tense 2-1 overtime playoff victory over Wales last October.

The outcome could hinge on how their skippers – Tahnai Annis for the Philippines and Switzerland’s Lia Waiti – are able to marshall their forces in controlling the  midfield to set the tone of the match.

Veteran midfielder Waiti, 30, who plays for Arsenal Women’s Super League, keeps the Swiss engine running with her ball control while Paris St. Germain striker Ramona Bachmann “should be Grings’ most important player,” according to the special World Cup edition of the Total Football Analysis magazine.

“With the veteran star proving to be one of the most consistent players in the national team…her contribution in the final third is undeniable. The center-forward also plays an important role in possession, getting involved in creating chances for her teammates,” the report noted.

The magazine also singled out Annis as the  pivotal player for the Filipinas.  

“The name that immediately stands out is Annis, with her central to everything that they do well; this is highly reflected in the way that she has strengths in (defense, offense and midfield),” the report said.

“It is clear that she (Annis) can provide most of what the Filipinas will be looking for in this tournament. She will be a prominent aspect of any hopes that they have of performing well in the World Cup,” the magazine  pointed out.

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