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AFC Women's Asian Cup: Australia Start Favourite Against Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia Seek First Win

Australia legend Sam Kerr (Twitter)

Australia legend Sam Kerr (Twitter)

Australia will take on the Philippines as Indonesia and Thailand go up against each other in the AFC Women's Asian Cup.

Coming off an 18-0 walloping of Indonesia, title contenders Australia will have their nose ahead in their Women’s Asian Cup Group B game against Philippines here on Monday.

Plenty of focus will be on head coach Alen Stajcic, but the Philippines boss insists he will put his personal feelings to one side when he takes on former employers Australia in the much-awaited match.

With Australia netting 18 goals against Indonesia, and the Philippines fresh from a win against Thailand, the match pits the group’s topper against the second-placed team, with the winners at Mumbai Football Arena all but certain to advance to the knockout stage with a game to spare.

Having taken the Matildas to the final at the 2014 and 2018 editions, Stajcic’s tenure ended abruptly early in 2019, with the 48-year-old spending time in men’s club football before emerging as the new Philippines head coach on the eve of the ongoing tournament.

“It’s obviously going to be an interesting game for me personally,” he was quoted as saying in the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) website.

“In a coaching role like this when you coach another national team, it’s such an honour. My allegiance to where I was born and raised will get put to one side. I’m fully behind this Philippine team that I’ve spent the last three months with. We’ve developed a really special bond there.”

“We’re going to do everything we possibly can to give them the best chance of representing their country at the best level they can. And we saw a good example of that against Thailand.”

The Thailand game was an unforgettable moment for the Philippines, who had never beaten their regional rivals in 12 attempts at the senior level, and had their semi-final hopes dashed by Chaba Kaew in the 2018 Women’s Asian Cup in Jordan.

With goal scorer Chandler McDaniel and Sweden-based debutant Katrina Guillou making fine contributions, the win against the Thais provided an indication what the Philippines team is capable of under Stajcic, but they are aware that Australia present a different ball game altogether.

“It’s a big weight off the shoulders of the players who’ve been in this team for a long time,” he said.

“In that respect, it’s fantastic but ultimately we’ve got a big game against Australia who are such a powerful team and one of the best teams in the world. We really need to refocus for the next game.”

With Sam Kerr scoring five goals against Indonesia and Emily van Egmond netting a hat-trick, Australia comes into the tournament with the top two goal scorers, and five of the top eight.

Australia and the Philippines have met only once before, with the Matildas easing to a 7-0 win in the 2008 AFF Championship.

Meanwhile, having made their first Asian Cup appearance in over 33 years, Indonesia are ready to put the embarrassing defeat against Australian behind them and take the challenge to their Southeast Asian rivals Thailand.

Head coach Rudy Eka Priyambada is well aware of how difficult it will be against Thailand – who have featured in two editions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

“Thailand have the experience of playing in the FIFA World Cup but we have another two matches to play and we want to make an impact. Our players, especially the younger ones, have to try and control the game,” said Priyambada.

“It’s a huge learning curve for us and we want to learn from this tournament for the development of our young squad.”

Thailand played well in patches against the Philippines but were unable to find a comfortable rhythm, leading to them conceding in the 81st minute.

Head coach Miyo Okamoto, however, is confident her team will bounce back with victory against Indonesia.

“In our first match, we all did our best but there were many mistakes that need to be corrected,” said Miyo Okamoto.

“We can’t just keep the ball in our own half, we have to create better chances.

“We can’t dwell on the previous game, we have to move on.

“There is no time for regrets. We have to fix our mistakes and work on making improvements against Indonesia. We need to do everything to win.”

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first published:January 23, 2022, 16:50 IST