By NIKOLE JAVIER
The time is now for the Philippine women’s national football team to prove to all and sundry that it really deserves a place in the FIFA Women’s World Cup which opens shop Friday, July 21, at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Standing in their way in their historic debut in the grandest stage of women’s football are the Swiss who they will face at 5 p.m. (1 p.m. Manila time).
Of course, the Filipinas are the clear underdogs in the match despite coming off 18 long months of honest-to-goodness preparations.
And for the first time in their flourishing careers, the Nationals will be playing at the 30,000-capacity arena that was a site of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
As expected, a group of enthusiastic Filipino expats welcomed the Filipinas when they arrived in the city on Thursday afternoon.
Ranked No. 46 in the FIFA women’s world rankings, the charges of Australian coach Alen Stajcic are expected to face a rough sailing when they face a team 20 rungs above them.
Not only that.
The bone-chilling weather that has been averaging 7-degree Celsius (44.6-degree Fahrenheit) in the past few days is the team’s other concern.
But having trained and played in the US, Europe, Asia and South America, the Filipinas are expected to go all-out in the hope of making an impression before an expected massive crowd.
Apparently, they are peaking at the right moment, having won their last five matches.
Their 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.
With the exciting opportunity ahead for Philippine sports, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) announced earlier this week that Cignal TV Inc. has stepped up and secured the broadcast rights to the tournament which gives the country a chance to support the Filipinas in their maiden appearance in the biggest football showpiece.
“This is an exciting development for football fans in the Philippines with the Filipinas’ matches in the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be shown live on free television and other platforms of Cignal TV,” said PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta.
After their game against Switzerland, the Filipinas will face the host nation New Zealand on July 25 before capping their group stage assignment with a duel with No. 12 Norway on July 30.
The Philippines and world No. 25 New Zealand battled in an international friendly in September last year that saw the Filipinas take a halftime lead of 1-nil before conceding two goals in the second half.