New Zealand might be Filipinas’ ‘toughest opponent’ this year, says Stajcic

Filipinas head coach Alen Stajcic is well aware of the threat and challenge brought by New Zealand when the Philippines clashes with the world-ranked No. 22 team in a friendly on Tuesday, Sept. 6, at the Titan Stadium in Cal State Fullerton in California.

Filipinas during the 2022 AFF Women’s Championship (MB File Photo / Ali Vicoy)

The women’s national football team is currently holding a training camp in Irvine, California to boost its preparation for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, following the Filipinas’ triumphant run in the 2022 AFF Women’s Championship last July.

Staging another international friendly, this time against New Zealand, is something that the Filipinas will need in the long run and Stajcic believes that the World Cup co-host will bring out the best in his wards.

“They’re a good team, they’re an experienced team. They’ve been going to every World Cup and Olympic Games for the last 10 years,” assessed Stajcic during a media availability with Philippine media Monday morning in Manila, Sept. 5.

“They were very competitive against top nations in the world. I don’t think they got to the point where they can beat the Top 10 team nations consistently but they’re certainly someone who gives everyone a hard time.”

The Australian mentor believes that the Filipinas are up for a “massive challenge” as the Kiwis flaunt experience in various international tournaments in the US and Europe.

The 48-year-old Stajcic, who steered the Filipinas to their first AFF Women’s Championship title, the country’s inaugural crown in any FIFA-sanctioned tournament, added that he had witnessed New Zealand’s improvement through the years specifically in terms of the players’ techniques and tactical prowess.

“They’re gonna be a tough opponent. There’s no doubt about that. They’re probably… probably the toughest opponent we’ve played this year after the Asia Cup,” said Stajcic. “I think Australia and South Korea are still a touch ahead of them but y’know, after that they’re definitely the hardest team we’re gonna play [against].”

It would be recalled that the Filipinas, currently ranked 53rd in the world, finished as semifinalists in the 2022 AFC Women’s Asia Cup which paved the way for the country’s first-ever World Cup berth.

Twenty-seven players, led by Sarina Bolden and Tahnai Annis and most who participated in the AFF Women’s Championship, have joined training camp in California.

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