May 24, 2024

FIELD GOALS | Growing up for the next World Cup

FIELD GOALS | Growing up for the next World Cup
Art by Mitzi Dyan/One Sports
The Philippine National Women’s Football Team were one of the toasts of the local sporting scene in 2023 after featuring in their first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and snatching a historic win.


Determined to sustain that type of success, the Filipinas management laid the foundations of a pipeline that would develop young players with senior glory in mind.


Filipinas manager Jefferson Cheng bared the decision to take over the national youth team setup was an idea broached by former head coach Alan Stajcic.


According to Cheng, the objective was to provide “a seamless transition” from the youth team to a higher level.


The current iteration of the national team kept this structure with head coach Mark Torcaso’s deputy Sinisha Cohadzic leading the U17 girls side.


The project has already yielded results with current senior players Bella Flanigan, Chantelle Maniti, and Bella Pasion among others, having figured for the youth teams, while some of the new recruits of the senior team such as Katana Norman, Aiselyn Sia, and Alexa Pino still qualify for the youth levels.


The opportunity to represent the Philippines at the youth level already exposes prospects to tougher competition than they are typically used to.


However, apart from just giving young talent the playing time to shine, Cheng said every youth team they assemble Is created with winning competitions in mind.


“Our job is to form the best team that we possibly can so that we create the possibility to win matches,” Cheng said. “That means selecting the best 23 or 22 players for every tournament that we participate in.”


But as much as the experience of just playing in an international tournament is beneficial, Cheng said the role of actual player development happens in the grassroots and not in a national team setup.


“Strictly speaking, player development should not be placed on team managers or national team coaches when there is a tournament,” Cheng said. “Player development should be done much earlier where a separate program should be in place and where someone else should be in charge of grassroots development.” 


He added, “Everyone involved in Philippine football has a role to play and should be allowed to focus on a specific task to maximize positive results all around.”


The bigger elephant in the room — as it always is when it comes to a Philippine national football team — why are there so few homegrown talents in the lineup?


It is no secret that there is a gap in quality in players coming from the Philippines compared to those raised overseas.


In fact there were only three locally-trained players out of 26 that made the U17 girls team that played in the recently-concluded MIMA Cup in Spain — Louraine Evangelista and Shien Payag from Tuloy FC, and Jelly Soon from Beach Hut FC.


Cheng attributed the shortcomings of local talent to other countries incorporating football into their school curriculums, opportunities to participate in high level competitions, and receiving professional coaching at an early age.


“Financial support, playing opportunities, good facilities and public support are probably the key factors that are missing (in the Philippines),” Cheng admitted. “I cannot say for sure that it’s ever going to happen soon but, I think, all of us who care about Philippine football are just trying our best, in whatever way we can, to make things better.”


While it might take awhile for more local players to feature in the Filipinas lineup — they won’t have to wait too long for another opportunity to crack the starting XI.


The next challenge for the younger Filipinas team is the AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup happening in Indonesia from May 6 to 19.


What is at stake is a spot at the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup in October.


The Philippines is bundled with host nation Indonesia and regional powerhouses North Korea and South Korea in Group A of the competition.


While the Filipinas U17 team sharpened themselves in matches against their England and Sweden counterparts at the MIMA Cup last February, Cheng understands they are still significant underdogs going into the tournament.


“We were the lowest ranked team at the draw so it’s going to be an incredibly tough task to qualify for the U17 World Cup since only the top three teams will go through,” Cheng explained. “But we will prepare as best we can and I have no doubt that our young Filipinas will make us proud.”


With this appearance being the debut of the young Filipinas at the Asian Cup level, Cheng hopes that supporters will savor this milestone.


“I hope Filipino football fans will give them all the support they need and not give them too much pressure. It’s the Philippines’ first youth Asian Cup. Let’s appreciate the moment.”


The Filipinas U17 Girls team kick-off their campaign at the 2024 AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup against host nation Indonesia on May 6 at the Kapten I Wayan Dicta Stadium in Bali.