Fiji are hoping to make history when the OFC qualifying campaign for the FIFA Women’s World Cup gets underway later this year.
And to prepare them for this feat, they’ve headed to Australia to take on a side which is on a historic journey of its own, the Philippine national women’s team.
The Alen Stajcic-coached side became the first Philippine football team, men or women, to qualify for a World Cup when they beat Chinese Taipei 4-3 in a penalty shootout, after a 1-1 draw, to secure a semi-final berth and tickets to Australia & New Zealand 2023.
Fiji are keen to emulate their opponents journey and two matches against the 54th ranked side, scheduled for April 7th and 11th in Sydney, are the perfect opportunity for Fiji coach Lisa Cole to see how her charges are shaping up.
“Our main objective of this tour is to give more game time to the girls, and also it will give me the opportunity to see how the players perform in their respective positions,” Cole said.
“So far I have seen them doing well in training but I want to see how they play against other opponents.”
Fiji played their first friendly against Westfield Sports High losing 3-2, but taking plenty of learnings.
“It was disappointing but good, we need to learn these lessons now,” Cole said, “there were some good individual performances and some very poor performances on the day as well”.
Fiji will play a second warm-up match on April 2, this time against APIA Leichardt FC, ahead of the two Philippines matches.
Cole said there is only a short period of time for the players to make improvements and ensure an improved performance the next time around.
“We should have been good enough to win but didn’t have the quality on the day,” she said.
“It’s very clear now to the players, that good habits matter. Opening up early, taking a positive first touch, playing quickly. All things they get away with in Fiji, but won’t get away with at the next level.”
While the coach’s constructive criticism may sound harsh, the American is preparing her side for the rigours of achieving an objective that won’t come along with dumb luck.
“We are playing good teams and the girls will have more exposure playing against them,” Cole said.
“This tour will also give me an opportunity to work out our weaknesses and build up good combinations and structure in the team.
“I want to see the best from the players and if they don’t perform to my expectation, I will for sure get other players as the door is still open.”
Cole traveled with 20 players initially, with four expected to travel this week once they receive their visas.
American-based striker Trina Davis joined the squad for the pre-tour camp in Fiji and will be joining her teammates in Australia also.
The Philippine national women’s team made a strong mark on the 2022 Women’s Asian Cup earlier this year when the side joined traditional powerhouses Japan, South Korea and China in the semi-finals, and ensured they’d be present at the biggest women’s sporting event in the world.
With an average age of 23 years old, the Philippines boasted one of the youngest squads of the India-hosted tournament, with captain Tahnai Annis the only player in her 30s.
The American-born Annis has previously played professionally in Iceland, appearing with Þór/KA in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, and brings a wealth of experience, leadership and game understanding to the “Filipinas”.
A number of players are playing professionally in leagues in Sweden, Spain, Cyprus and Japan.
Additional reporting: Fiji Football Association