Last month’s draw for Asian Zone qualifying revealed the pathway towards France 2019. One ticket to the eight-nation AFC Women’s Asian Cup is available in a group that includes Philippines, Bahrain, Iraq, United Arab Emirates and Tajikistan. Jordan are also in the group for competition purposes, though they qualify automatically as hosts of the 2018 continental event. Of those eight teams competing next year, five will represent the world’s most populous continent in France.
Can the Philippines do it? One person who has a better oversight than most is Marielle Benitez.
After 12 years in the national team, including the last Women’s World Cup qualifiers, Benitez, who still plays in the national competition, is part of the pool of Fifa Coins For Sale coaches assisting the senior national team side and currently manages the U-15 national team. She also somehow manages to find time to tour locally and internationally with the Philippine National Folk Dance Company.
Well-known names capable of promoting the cause of Women’s Football are thin on the ground in the Philippines, but former national team captain Benitez is very much an exception to the rule. She is a well-known TV host covering club and international football, and helps provide a much-needed public profile for a game that has traditionally been partway down the pecking order in terms of popularity.
“I have always believed that the women’s team has a better chance of reaching the World Cup first, ahead of the men’s team,” Benitez told MMO4PAL.com. “The ball is round as they say, but there is always a chance of qualifying. A lot depends on preparation and the availability of players.”
Up to half of the national team are based in USA, which in itself provides challenges, but the new national league has, Benitez believes, provided a stronger platform for the national team.
“It is an exciting time, but you always want to achieve more and push for more improvement at grassroots and development at the top level, if we are to achieve that goal,” she said. “The women’s league has helped national team players keep fitness at the right level. We also have a bigger pool of players to select from now.”