By Olmin Leyba, The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine women's football team Malditas will assemble its regulars and new Fil-foreign recruits for one last training camp in Manila before embarking on their mission to qualify for the 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup.
Coach Ernie Nierras said members of the Malditas pool will work it out from May 1-18 at the Turf BGC as final preparation for their campaign in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers in Dhaka, Bangladesh on May 21-25.
The Bangladesh meet will serve as a qualifying event for the 2014 AFC Women's Asian Cup's main tourney, which in turn will award five tickets to the 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup in Canada.
A total of 50 players have been called up for the Malditas' training squad for the AFC qualifiers, led by skipper Marielle Benitez, Sam Nierras, Isabella Fernando, Fil-Canadian Mallory Dayot, and Fil-Am striker Heather Cooke, a former Division 1 player at Loyola Maryland.
Former professional player Jenny Hammond and a number of Fil-Ams and Fil-Canadians who attended the team's weeklong spring training in Corona, California last month, are beefing up the side. Also in the preliminary roster are stalwarts of the UAAP and the PH U16 and U19 teams.
The Malditas are bracketed in Group B, taking on Iran on May 21, Thailand on May 23, and host Bangladesh on May 25. The target is to rule the group and join Australia, South Korea, China, reigning Fifa Women's World Cup champion Japan and other group winners in the main draw of the 2014 AFC Women's Asian Cup. The top 5 in the Asian Cup will advance to the World Cup.
"(If ever) We would be the first Philippine team ever to qualify for the World Cup," said Fil-Am Alexa Diaz of Seatte Pacific U, one of 35 US and Canada-based players vying for slots in the final 23. "(Nierras) put some high standards on us at that last camp, and he mapped it out for us."
Nierras said the Malditas, who scored a breakthrough conquest in the four-team LA Vikings Cup meet in the US last year, feel good about their chances in the AFC qualifiers.
"My expectations are high," Nierras said in a recent interview on ANC. "We expect to top this group in Bangladesh, then go from there."