The Filipinas want to quash the notion that they are lightweights in the World Cup. —MARLO CUETO

The Filipinas want to quash the notion that they are lightweights in the World Cup. —MARLO CUETO

The valiant performance of the Philippines in its Fifa (International Federation of Association Football) Women’s World Cup debut here in New Zealand is not lost on the host country’s team that is on a high from a landmark victory on the grandest stage.

“Unbelievable growth, unbelievable improvement from the Philippines,” said Jitka Klimkova, the coach of New Zealand’s Football Ferns, who the Filipinas will hope to sneak up on for an unlikely result on Tuesday at Wellington Regional Stadium.

Klimkova, the Czech mentor instrumental in the Kiwis’ shock 1-0 upset of consensus Group A favorite Norway last Thursday in Auckland, understands that the Philippines can forge its own giant-killing outcome. The two teams played in a friendly in sunny California last September, with New Zealand scoring a 2-1 victory. But the Kiwis had to rally from a goal deficit on Sarina Bolden’s score before halftime.

“I know we were actually shocked with what we saw in the first half, specifically when we were scouting them. They were a different team that evening,” Klimkova added during an early evening prematch press conference here in Wellington.

And the World Cup has been a hotbed for surprise results so far. Apart from New Zealand’s upset of former champion Norway and the Philippines’ competitive show against Switzerland, there were shock draws produced by Nigeria against Olympic champion Canada and Jamaica against powerhouse France.

“It’s great for women’s football that oppositions like the Philippines are growing, that they are pushing us, they are pushing everybody who they play against. It’s always good for the game when we have competitive games,” said Klimkova.

“And we know that we are not going to have an easy game in the World Cup,” she continued. “Every opposition that we are facing against has a reason to be here. They made the World Cup. We are very humble, we know it will be hard and that’s why we are preparing the same way like we prepared against Norway.”

Partisan crowd

Another win will likely send New Zealand to the knockout stages for the first-time ever, a bid the Philippines intends to foil — or, at the very least, stall.

“We wanna crash the party. And it’s not really their party, it’s everyone’s party. It’s our party as well,” said coach Alen Stajcic, whose team is bracing for a loud and partisan crowd on gamer day.

The Filipinas are banking on previous experiences playing in front of a jeering audience and the eagerness to defy the notion of being the perceived lightweights in the group.

“We played Vietnam in the SEA (South East Asian) Games [in 2022, and] that was the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen play so far,” said striker Sarina Bolden after Sunday’s training session in Auckland.  “And to get that experience of so many fans rooting against you is good because we’re playing against the host nation and it’s going to be 10 times louder and much energy against us.

“But I feel like we’re gonna feed on that, and we’re gonna have our Filipino supporters out there who are just as loud. All the stuff that we’ve prepared brought us to this moment and I have no doubt that we’ll do well,” she added.

Stajcic played down the friendly as something that could impact how the game would turn out, but described it as a key moment in the Filipinas’ World Cup buildup.

But for New Zealand, that exhibition match was crucial.

“Playing Philippines in September is very helpful because we understand their principles, their tendencies and that should help us be successful,” said Klimkova.


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