Abbie Parr/Associated Press
The Philippine women’s soccer team will play its first World Cup match in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Auckland, New Zealand
When the Philippine soccer team takes on Switzerland in the Women’s World Cup hours later on Friday, they will become the first gender-neutral team from a Southeast Asian country to compete in the competition. This is backed by a team of dual American players.
This team is led by former Australian women’s national team manager Allen Stadzic. They’re going to make history regardless of the outcome of Friday’s game.
Sutacic took over the Philippine squad ahead of the World Cup qualifiers and took over on a three-month deal with the goal of “giving them the best possible chance of qualifying”.
“A year and a half later, me and my entire coaching staff are still here,” he told CNN.
The team “have come a long way” since Stacic took over as manager, he said.
“A variety of goals have been achieved in terms of gaining playing experience and increasing depth within the squad.”
In preparation for their World Cup debut, Sutacic said his team’s primary goal was “to face as many different styles of play as possible”.
He claimed they “played more games than any other team in the world”. Last year I was up to about 30th place. ”
“The comfort for me is that we’ve done everything we can to give them the best possible chance,” Sutacic told CNN before the tournament.
“We go to the start line thinking we can be really competitive next week. We know we are the underdogs.
Many of the team members are Filipino-Americans who have experienced significant diaspora within the United States.
“If they have the Philippines in their heart and blood and are good footballers, they are eligible to join our team,” Stacic told reporters at a press conference on Thursday ahead of the team’s first match.
“Honestly, I can’t say where everyone was born and for me it’s irrelevant,” he added. “They all play for their flag, they play for their country, they all play for the Filipino people wherever they live.
California-born Salina Bolden (who qualified for the tournament on a penalty kick) had never been to the Philippines before joining the national team.
Now she is one of the team’s most recognizable stars.
“Everyone is really excited about what’s to come and what’s going to shock the world,” she told CNN.
“I know football is not the main sport in the Philippines…but I think seeing us on the big stage and on the big screen will really get more people interested and interested in football,” said Bolden, who plays for Australia’s A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers.
The 27-year-old hopes her country’s presence at the World Cup will promote football in both the Philippines and diaspora, where other sports such as basketball and boxing remain popular.
“Filipinos are everywhere, so I think this will really help the growth of football not just in the Philippines but around the world,” Bolden said.
Eligible to represent both the United States and the Philippines, Bolden attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he earned a reputation as a standout talent for the LMU Lions, appearing in over 70 games and attracting the attention of the Philippines coaches.
Since turning professional, her career has spanned Europe, the United States and Asia, with residencies in Taiwan and Japan. In 2022, she made it to the final tournament for the first time in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup as a key player for the Philippine national team.
Bolden said he has already seen a growing awareness and interest in the Philippines following the team’s on-field success and historic World Cup qualification.
“I think the excitement from the grassroots is really building up. People are really trying to spread the word,” she said, referring to the anecdote that her mother randomly approached a Filipino colleague to inform her that the women’s national team was in this year’s World Cup.
“I know people, especially Filipino-Americans, are talking about how huge this is,” Bolden added.
“So you can imagine the word spreading.”