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Soccer-Stajcic aiming to close experience gap for Filipina World Cup underdogs

SYDNEY – Philippines coach Alen Stajcic will take his inexperienced squad into the Women’s World Cup hoping a year-and-a-half spent exposing his players to the rigors of the international scene will ensure his team are competitive in their tournament debut.

The Filipinas will make history when they become the first outfit from their country — male or female — to appear at the finals of a global football event as they take to the field against Switzerland in Dunedin, New Zealand, on July 21.

In a nation better known for its prowess in the boxing ring or on the basketball court, the Australian has had to address a knowledge gap within his squad but Stajcic is confident his players will be ready when proceedings begin later this month.

“We traversed the globe last year and played 30 internationals, and this year we’ve already played nine,” former Australia coach Stajcic told Reuters of his team’s preparations.

“We have tried to give them experience of European teams, of South American teams, Central American teams, teams from Oceania as well from our own confederation in Asia.

“I’ve tried to give them that broad perspective, with different football styles, learning how to travel, learning how to professionalize your life on and off the pitch to ensure that you’re good to go when you actually play.

“We’ve added all those bits in and now there’s obviously fine tuning, but we’ve put in a lot of work over a long period of time, all the staff and players together.”

The Philippines’ qualification came as a surprise for a nation that has never been close to claiming a World Cup berth, with their spot secured when Stajcic steered the team to the semi-finals of the Women’s Asian Cup last January.

The majority of the squad come from the Filipino diaspora, with the bulk born and raised in the United States and undergoing their development within that country’s collegiate system.

Few, though, have featured at the top end of the women’s game and that lack of exposure means they will be unfansied when they go into their group games against the Swiss, Norway and tournament co-hosts New Zealand.

“Obviously we’re the underdog and everyone knows we’re the underdog in the group,” said Stajcic. “So everything’s going to be tough for us.

“Every time we go on the pitch we’ll be the underdog, regardless of what’s happened in the game before.

“Success for me will be for the players to walk on the pitch on any given day and know that there are in with a chance of winning the game.” — Reuters

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