The Philippines’ courageous performance in their FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) Women’s World Cup debut here in New Zealand is not lost on the host country team riding on the heights of a historic victory on the grandest stage.
“Incredible growth, incredible improvement from the Philippines,” said Jitka Klimkova, coach of the New Zealand Football Ferns, who the Philippines hopes to sneak up on for an unlikely result on Tuesday at the Wellington Regional Stadium.
Klimkova, the Czech mentor who was instrumental in the Kiwis’ 1-0 win over consensus Group A favorite Norway last Thursday in Auckland, understands that the Philippines can forge its own giant-slaying result. The two teams played a friendly in sunny California last September, with New Zealand scoring a 2-1 victory. But the Kiwis had to come back from a goal deficit with Sarina Bolden scoring before half time.
“I know we were actually surprised by what we saw in the first half, specifically when we were looking for them. They were a different team that night,” Klimkova added during a pre-match press conference in the early afternoon here in Wellington.
And the World Cup has been abuzz with surprise results so far. Aside from New Zealand’s upset against former champion Norway and the Philippines’ competitive extravaganza against Switzerland, there were stunning draws produced by Nigeria against Olympic champion Canada and Jamaica against mighty France.
“It’s fantastic for women’s football that rivals like the Philippines are growing, that they are pushing us, that they are pushing everyone they play against. It’s always good for the game when we have competitive games,” Klimkova said.
“And we know that we are not going to have an easy game in the World Cup,” he continued. “Every opposition we face has a reason to be here. They did the World Cup. We are very humble, we know it will be difficult and that is why we are preparing the same way we did against Norway”.
Another win is likely to send New Zealand into the knockout stages for the first time, a gamble the Philippines intend to thwart or at least stop.
“We want to crash the party. And it’s not really his party, it’s everyone’s party. It’s also our party,” said coach Alen Stajcic, whose team is bracing for a raucous, supportive crowd on Player’s Day.
The Filipinas rely on previous experiences playing in front of a jeering audience and enthusiasm to challenge the notion of being the perceived lightweights in the group.
“We played Vietnam at the SEA (South East Asian) Games (in 2022, and) that was the biggest crowd I’ve seen play so far,” forward Sarina Bolden said after Sunday’s training session in Auckland. “And to have that experience of so many fans cheering you on is good because we’re playing the host nation and they’re going to be 10 times stronger and more energetic against us.
“But I feel like we’re going to feed off of that, and we’re going to have our Filipino fans who are just as loud. Everything that we have prepared brought us to this moment and I have no doubt that we will do well, ”he added.
Stajcic downplayed the friendly as something that could affect the outcome of the game, but described it as a key moment in the build-up to the World Cup in the Philippines.
But for New Zealand, that exhibition match was crucial.
“Playing the Philippines in September is very helpful because we understand their principles, their tendencies and that should help us succeed,” Klimkova said.
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