AFTER the depressing news of the demise of FC Meralco-Manila, there are two bright lights at the end of the winding tunnel of Philippine football.
The first light which leads us to the AFC 2019 Asian Cup in UAE is still dim as the Philippine Azkals will still try to qualify for the quadrennial competition when they clash against Tajikistan on March 27 at home.
The brighter light is the Philippine Women’s team, the Malditas, who have already qualified for the Asian Women’s Cup this April 6-20 in Jordan.
The Malditas qualified for the AFC Women’s Cup after they defeated Bahrain, UAE, Tajikistan and Iraq in the qualifier in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in April last year.
Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Nonong Araneta himself has initiated the plan dubbed as ‘Project Jordan’ to prepare the Malditas for the tournament with the ambitious target of qualifying for the Fifa Women’s World Cup in France next year.
COACH ERNIE NIERRAS
According to long time Malditas benefactor Ernie Nierras the project is supported by PLDT, the MVP Foundation, Jeff Cheng, Filbert Alquiros and many more football loving Filipinos to insure the Malditas decent showing in UAE and a possibility of advancing to France.
Some 40 players are now in a training camp in Corona California, USA trying to get a slot to the 23-women team. They will announce the final line-up after the training camp and when they are ready for the Jordan competition. “The PFF has hired a highly qualified coaching staff that will guide this team to Jordan and hopefully to France as well, ’’ Nierras said.
NEW MALDITAS HEAD COACH RICHARD BOON
The Malditas are now under new coach Richard Boon. He also brought along a new coaching staff Clint McDaniel (assistant coach), Eric Miselroy (goalkeeping coach) Joey Hoffman (assistant coach) and Carey Rosenberry (assistant coach) .
Boon was the director for girls development program of the California-based Corinthians Soccer Club. He is a USSF A license coach and was voted 2013 Nike Girls Soccer Coach of the Year, Goal international Magazine coach of the year, and has an NCAA Premier Diploma.
He replaced Let Dimzon, who guided the Malditas in the Southeast Asian Games in August last year. The Malditas, under former mentor Leticia “Buda” Bautista, qualified to the quadrennial Asian Women’s Cup.
“This is the best chance we have of making it to the WWC. We have the complete support of the PFF. We have the sponsors and Ninongs to back us up. The players and coaching staff are very optimistic of our chances in progressing beyond the AFC Asian Women’s Cup. As always, we need the support of our countrymen to make this dream a reality. #PILIPINASLABAN #PARASABAYAN are our hashtags,’’ Nierras added.
Five countries from Asia can qualify to the Women’s World Cup in France next year. The Malditas need to make it to the top five in the UAE tournament this April to get a free ticket to France.
It will be tough but Nierras is optimistic. “I will never back down or retract what I said in 2005. The Malditas will make it to the Fifa Women’s World Cup. The PFF president set the goals for the 2018 AFC, AFF and Asian Games competition. This will culminate in next year’s 2019 SEAG which we will be hosting,’’ Nierras said.
PFF PRESIDENT NONONG ARANETA
He added that they have specific performance indicators that Araneta set himself. “The goals are ambitious but realistic. We’ve already exceeded the 2013 AFC performance by making it to the AFC Women’s Asian Cup.Qualifying. France is the ultimate goal, and we will evaluate our chances as the girls complete the planned camps.’’
So far according to Nierras, they are meeting the performance indicators for Project Jordan. “Although the rest remains to be seen The challenge now is to complete the next three camps and to narrow down our roster to the final 23 players. So far, the progress during the last camp were above our expectation,’’ he added.
Personally, I have predicted the Malditas would outperform the Azkals in the international stage. This prediction has started to come true. This year is very important for Philippine football. Decent performances of the Azkals and the Malditas will surely inject adrenalin to the beautiful game in our country.
Imagine if the Malditas make it to the World Cup and the Azkals advance to the Asian Cup. That is a blessing worthy to forget the demise of FC Meralco-Manila. (firstname.lastname@example.org)