MANILA, Philippines – Alen Stajcic may have already relished immense coaching success in the last two decades, but the Australian mentor ranks his historic stint with the Philippine women’s football team as his “best experience.”
Even with Stajcic at the helm for just a few months, the Philippines clinched a World Cup berth for the first time after advancing to the semifinal round of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022.
“I think this is probably the best experience, I think, in my coaching career. I’ve been coaching for 20 years,” he said.
Stajcic, the former Matildas tactician who was shortlisted for the Best FIFA Women’s Coach award in 2018 and guided Australia to a quarterfinal appearance in both the 2015 Women’s World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics, had nothing but praise for his gallant Filipina crew.
“To take this group who are so dedicated, so determined, so much discipline, so much heart, so much spirit, considering what they’ve had to overcome to this point. I don’t think I’ve ever had to coach a group who’s had so many hurdles to overcome just in the preparation, let alone in the tournament,” said Stajcic.
“And to get to this level and to fight and compete up until the last kick of the semifinal is truly just such a remarkable effort and it’s really emotional watching them try right to the last second of the game. There’s so many teams who would’ve given up and thrown the towel.”
The Philippines wrapped up its Asian Cup campaign with a 2-0 semifinal loss to world No. 18 Korea. Despite the setback, the Filipinas head home with a ticket to the world’s most prestigious football event.
“It’s been a wonderful experience getting to know every player, every member of our staff,” said the 48-year-old Stajcic. “It’s such a unified group, such a close group. And again, as I said before, it’s no surprise that the whole country back home in the Philippines is really proud of the group.”
Appointed by by the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) only last October 2021, Stajcic quickly elevated the Filipina booters to another level as they broke through multiple ceilings and carved out pieces of history.
“When you create history almost every time you step on the field, there’s nothing more we could ask,” he said.
The former NSW Premier League player knows that the feat ramped up expectations for the world No. 64 Filipinas heading into the World Cup in 2023.
“The bar of performance has been raised, the expectations now for the country have been raised, and now everyone has to come on board and we’ve got 18 months to prepare for the World Cup and ensure that we do everything that we can as a country to give these players the maximum possible chance of performing at that stage,” said Stajcic.
Joining the Philippines as Asian representatives in the World Cup are fellow Asian Cup semifinalists Korea, world No. 13 Japan, and world No. 19 China.
The Matildas, ranked 11th but absorbed a shock quarterfinal exit against Korea, had already secured a berth as Australia co-hosts the World Cup with New Zealand.