Hali Long (front) is one of the Filipinas born and raised abroad. Long is a defender born and raised in Cape Girardeau in the US but plays her heart out whenever she puts on the Philippine Team jersey. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO  

Hali Long (front) is one of the Filipinas born and raised abroad. Long is a defender born and raised in Cape Girardeau in the US but plays her heart out whenever she puts on the Philippine Team jersey. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The Philippine team playing in the Fifa (International Association Football Federation) Women’s World Cup for the first time is, hands-down, the biggest two weeks of the Filipinas’ lives.

But as finally revealed Saturday, they got plenty more than that prior to their landmark debut against Switzerland when they faced the defending two-time champion United States in a closed-door friendly in Auckland.

Only a few sentences were mentioned about the match in a story written by ESPN’s Caitlin Murray following the United States’ 3-0 victory over Vietnam the previous day at Eden Park here.

Murray, who wrote the book “The National Team: The Inside Story of The Women Who Changed Soccer,” put that little nugget in the decision of American coach Vlatko Andonovski to start midfielder Savannah DeMelo against Vietnam.

No one from within the Filipinas have confirmed if the friendly did take place, but The Inquirer has been aware that the two teams had talks as early as May about having an exhibition once they’re here to iron out final preparations before the World Cup begins.

“They wanted to face a team who is similar with the one from Southeast Asia who is in their same group,” said a highly-placed source, who didn’t disclose the teams but was obviously giving direct hints.

Keeping a lid on it

There was also an agreement to keep the planned exhibition under wraps, though further details may eventually be known now that the proverbial cat is already out of the bag.

It was perhaps a dream for most on the Filipinas squad, namely those born in the United States, since they were exposed to seeing the country dominate the global women’s football scene while growing up.

International media outlets have profiled how the team was able to tap those with Filipino heritage to slowly reach its World Cup ambition, with one Yahoo! Sports report describing the Filipinas as “The making of America’s other Women’s World Cup team.”

Bold question

A foreign reporter, who appeared to be an American, even asked Filipinas coach Alen Stajcic on the eve of the team’s debut match against Switzerland in Dunedin if that move is considered a “recruiting strategy,” which the latter begged to differ.

“Anyone with a Filipino passport, I don’t really care where they are born. If they have the Philippines in their heart and in their blood and they are a good footballer then they are eligible for our team,” said Stajcic.

“So honestly, can’t tell you where everyone was born and for me it’s irrelevant. They all play for the [Philippine] flag, they all play for the country and they all play for the people of the Philippines, wherever they reside,” Stajcic said.

“We’ve traveled the world last year, traversed the whole planet and the amount of fans we have across the world regardless of where, whether it’s Europe, Central America, South America, North America, Australia is just amazing to have, that support from the diaspora all around the world.

“So, I don’t really care. I just know that this team has Filipino heart and blood and courage and spirit and that’s only the criteria regardless of their birth,” added Stajcic.

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