FILIPINAS training under the watchful eyes of Alen Stajcic. — PFF

HOST Philippines gets tested in the AFF Women’s Championship right away as it opens its campaign against Australia’s Under 23 (U23) team on Monday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

The Filipinas take on the Australians, the 2008 winners, at 7 p.m., intent on making the most of their home field advantage and crowd support to get off to a winning start in Group A.

Also featured in Day 1 at Rizal is the Group A kickoff match between Singapore and Malaysia at 4 p.m.

The history-making Filipino booters are playing at home for the first time since clinching a ticket to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup early this year and bagging the bronze in the Southeast Asian Games last May.

For Alen Stajcic’s charges, there’s no shortage of motivation to perform in the July 4-17 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) showpiece.

“We’ve been in the European subcontinent, Australia, and North America just in my seven months in the team. There’s a lot of leading and growth that has happened. We’re really looking forward to the next chapter and playing on home soil is something special,” said Mr. Stajcic.

“Since we’ve been playing all over, we really haven’t got that home field advantage. Everybody is excited for that. All the support will help us in the long tournament. Everybody is excited and honored to play in the Philippines,” said skipper Tahnai Annis.

The Filipinas, whose best finish was fourth in the 2019 edition in Thailand, are coming off a productive buildup in Slovenia, where they beat Bosnia and Herzegovina in a pair of friendlies, 3-0 and 2-1.

After the Matildas U23, the host squad battles Singapore (July 6), Malaysia (July 8), Indonesia (July 10), and four-time champion Thailand (July 12). The objective is to finish in the Top 2 of the group to advance to the knockout rounds.

The other group consists of defending champion Vietnam, 2019 bronze medalist Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Cambodia and Laos. — Olmin Leyba