Alen Stajcic considers steering the national women’s football team to its first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup berth as perhaps the best experience of his coaching career.
Stajcic made this pronouncement shortly after the Philippines’ dream run in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, the same tournament where the World Cup berth was secured, came to an end with a 2-0 loss to South Korea in the semifinals.
The Pinay booters earned one of the places in next year’s premier event through the quarterfinals where they beat Taiwan via penalties, completing Stajcic’s redemption story after being sacked as coach of the Australia women’s side two years ago.
He had guided his home country to quarterfinal berths in the World Cup and the Olympics, but Stajcic feels that his debut campaign for the Philippines was a stint like no other.
“This is probably the best experience, I think, in my coaching career,” he said. “I’ve been coaching for 20 years and to take this group who are so dedicated, so determined, so much discipline, so much heart, so much spirit, considering whether or not to ever come to this point.
“I don't think I've ever had to coach a group that has had so many hurdles to overcome, just in preparation that alone in a tournament, and to get to this level and to fight and compete up until the last kick of a semifinal is truly just such a remarkable effort.”
The setback to South Korea didn’t prevent Stajcic from hailing his team for keeping the resolve that allowed them to succeed since the continental tournament in India started two weeks ago.
He also savored the great atmosphere throughout the team ever his tenure began with a three-month training camp in Irvine, California, which the players considered as a huge factor in their success.
“It's really emotional watching them try right to the last second of a game,” he said. “There's so many teams who would have given up and thrown in the towel.
“And it has been a wonderful experience getting to know every player, every member of our staff at such a unified group, such a close group. And as I said before, it's no surprise that the whole country back home in the Philippines is really proud.”
With the memorable run in the books, Stajcic is now setting his sights on mapping out a plan for the Philippines to create a good run in the World Cup — provided negotiations for a new contract go smoothly.
Stajcic offered little as to what’s next, but assured the things will be determined in due time.
“It's very fresh at the moment (Asian Cup campaign), and you got to let everything settle down,” he said. “But I'm sure that'll be sorted in the next two or three weeks.”