THE Philippine national women’s football team begins its 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup Qualifier campaign this weekend, seeking to do well in the competition and beyond. — PHILIPPINE FOOTBALL FEDERATION

THE Philippine national women’s football team begins its 2022 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women’s Asian Cup Qualifier campaign this weekend, seeking to do well in the competition and beyond.

The team, collectively known as the Malditas, will start its bid in Group F where it is lumped with Hong Kong and Nepal.

World 68th ranked Philippines plays Nepal (101st) on Sept. 18 at the JAR Stadium in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, then collides with Hong Kong (78th) on Sept. 24.

Qualifying phase format has the top teams in each of the eight groupings advancing to the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, where they get to vie for spots in the 2023 International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) Women’s World Cup.

“As further motivation to the players, we came up with the rallying cry of ‘Remember The Goal,’ which is to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023, and it starts here in Tashkent,” shared national team coach Marlon Maro in a virtual press conference with Filipino media on Wednesday from Uzbekistan.

The team, some coming from here and the training camp in California, left for Tashkent early this week and arrived safely, with the squad happy to report that all of the members tested negative for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in tests done upon their arrival.

Mr. Maro said the team is in high spirits and looking forward to playing and representing the country.

He is confident that they have assembled a good team and prepared well for the competition at hand.

“This is definitely a new team, an exciting team to watch. And they are very motivated. When it comes to the lineup, I think this is the best lineup that we were able to assemble. It’s a combination of young and senior players and we have a combination of big and tall players from goalkeeper, midfield, and strikers,” the coach said.

Adding, “We were able to prepare for the competition through the training camp and competitive matches where the team continued to improve day by day.”

Named team captain of the Maldita is goalkeeper Inna Palacios, with defender Hali Long serving as co-captain.

Also part of the team are goalkeepers Olivia Davies McDaniel and Isabelle Mapanao; defenders Sofia Harrison, Chelo Hodges, Tara Shelton and Patricia Tomanon; and midfielders TahSara Castañeda, Anicka Castañeda, Malea Cesar, Charisa Lemoran, Rocelle Mendano, Jessica Miclat, Camille Rodrigue, Alyssa Ube and Camille Wilson.

Completing the squad are forwards Alisha Del Campo, Arianna Lepage and Chandler McDaniel.

The team will be sans veterans Tahnai Annis and Ryley Bugay, who are with their respective clubs in Japan, but Mr. Maro said the team they have can manage.

“We will miss their services, but the team, as it is, is very competitive,” said Mr. Maro.

Team captain Ms. Palacios also shared her coach’s confidence in the team.

“We’re confident of the tactics we have for the competition. We just have to follow the game plan. We’ll play our best and we’re very much motivated by the campaign that we have #RememberTheGoal in our heads at all times,” said Ms. Palacios, part of the Malditas team which saw action in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

In the lead-up to the qualifiers, the team conducted online training sessions early this year before going to camp in Irvine, California, from Aug. 4 to Sept. 11.

The team’s campaign is supported by the Philippine Sports Commission and MVP Sports Foundation.

The Philippine Football Federation said it is currently working on ways to show the Malditas’ matches, if not on live television, at least through livestream.

In the 12-country AFC Women’s Asian Cup happening in India next year, five spots in the FIFA Women’s World Cup are up for grabs. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo