Rising Philippines set sights on World Cup ‘dream’
Philippines are aiming to qualify for their first FIFA Women’s World Cup
The Southeast Asians fell narrowly short of qualification for France 2019
Goalkeeper Inna Palacios says it would be a “dream come true”
With the upcoming iteration of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ set to feature 32 nations for the first time, it seems likely there will several new counties lining up when the world’s elite head Down Under in 2023. One such nation hoping to be among the list of new faces is the Philippines. The Southeast Asians may enjoy little global recognition, but they have been steadily building in recent years and in 2018 they were just a single win away from maiden Women’s World Cup qualification. Having won through to the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup – their first such appearance in 15 years – the Philippines reached the play-off for the fifth and final AFC ticket to France 2019, only to be outclassed by Korea Republic at the final hurdle. Fast forward three years and Philippines are primed to begin their charge to win a spot at Australia & New Zealand 2023. Supplemented by a handful of US-based players, the Philippines have cause for optimism. On Saturday, Philippines will tackle outsiders Nepal, before meeting Hong Kong six days later. The latter have considerable historical pedigree and with only one of the three sides progressing to January’s Women’s Asian Cup, there is little margin for error.
Goalkeeper Inna Palacios told FIFA.com the impact of Covid-19 has made the build-up “challenging”, but the team’s growth in recent years is cause for encouragement. “The team (has continued) to learn and grow as we play more games together,” she said. “If there’s any takeaway we got from qualifying to the AFC Women's Asian Cup final round and playing the big teams there in 2018, it’s hope. Hope that we too can make it to the big stage. “It is possible for the Philippines to qualify for the World Cup through a lot of hard work, commitment, and discipline from everyone in the team.” Captain Palacios, now in her tenth year representing the national team, understands the impact international success would have. “It (qualification) would be hard to describe it until we get there. I can only imagine feeling like a little kid again, like a dream come true. This is the dream, the goal.”
Qualification to the 12-nation Women’s Asian Cup in India would leave Philippines within sight of achieving their Women’s World Cup goal. Mathematically the odds of advancing a step further are strong. The top five teams, excluding Australia, will claim AFC’s five direct slots, with two further nations to participate in the new intercontinental play-off tournament. So what would qualification mean to Philippines women’s football? “It would definitely elevate the game,” the 27-year-old Palacios said. ”If that happens, I want the country to know how fierce the country's female athletes are, and I hope football becomes more popular and will see more girls playing. “Making it to the World Cup in 2023 would make the Philippines’ agenda to support women’s football all the way down to the grassroots level. “It would put the Philippines on the map not only in Southeast Asia but across the continent as well in terms of women's football. Everyone loves a good underdog story.”