Focus on the Philippines
Kuala Lumpur: The Philippines have competed in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup eight times before, but all of those appearances came in an era where pre-qualifying wasn’t required, making their qualification for Jordan 2018 a major achievement.
Head coach: TBA
Current FIFA ranking: 70
AFC Women’s Asian Cup appearances: 1981, 1983, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003
Best finish: Group stage (1981, 1983, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003)
With a mix of homegrown talent and US-based players, the Malditas were brilliant in their qualifying tournament in Dushanbe, overcoming unfamiliar snowy conditions to rack up successive wins over United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Tajikistan.
Seventeen-year-old Sara Castaneda’s late equaliser against Bahrain in the following match was enough to confirm their place in the Finals as Group A runners-up, given eventual group winners Jordan had already qualified as hosts.
The qualification ended 14 years in the wilderness at continental level, and was the first time a Filipino senior national team – male or female – successfully qualified for an Asian Cup Finals.
The Philippines were brought back down to earth by a 5-1 loss to Jordan in their final qualifier, and endured a difficult SEA Games tournament in August, where they suffered heavy defeats to Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand.
The Philippines will take a youthful side to Jordan 2018, with the vast majority of their squad aged in their late teens or early twenties, and goalkeeper Inna Palacios potentially the youngest captain in the tournament at just 23.
Buda Bautista, the head coach who guided the Philippines to Jordan 2018, was nominated for AFC Women’s Coach of the Year award for her efforts, but has since departed the role, with a replacement to named in the coming weeks.
Key player: Eva Madarang
The California-born striker wasn’t even on the national team radar a year ago, but she went from a left-back in American college football to a star international striker in a matter of months, and played a key role in helping the Philippines to the Finals.
Eligible by virtue of her father’s Filipino heritage, Madarang (pictured above, centre) travelled to Manila to try out for the national team ahead of the qualifiers in April and did enough to earn selection in the squad to travel to Tajikistan.
Once in Dushanbe, the then 19-year-old lit up the tournament, scoring the opening goal in all three of her team’s wins, and finishing with four goals – level with teammates Sara Castaneda and Hali Long.
Having missed the SEA Games in August through injury, Madarang will be eager to return to the international stage and show fans throughout Asia what she’s capable of.
|UNITED ARAB EMIRATES||5||2||1||2||5||11||-6||7|
Philippines - 'A’ internationals in 2017
|UAE||4-0||WAC Qualifiers||Dushanbe, Tajikistan||03/04/2017|
|Iraq||4-0||WAC Qualifiers||Dushanbe, Tajikistan||05/04/2017|
|Tajikistan||8-0||WAC Qualifiers||Dushanbe, Tajikistan||07/04/2017|
|Bahrain||1-1||WAC Qualifiers||Dushanbe, Tajikistan||10/04/2017|
|Jordan||1-5||WAC Qualifiers||Dushanbe, Tajikistan||12/04/2017|
|Malaysia||2-1||SEA Games||Shah Alam, Malaysia||15/08/2017|
|Vietnam||0-3||SEA Games||Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia||17/08/2017|
|Myanmar||0-6||SEA Games||Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia||22/08/2017|
|Thailand||1-3||SEA Games||Shah Alam, Malaysia||24/08/2017|