Stajcic up for 'interesting' Matildas game

Philippines coach Alen Stajcic will take on former side Australia in the Asian Cup on Monday.
Philippines coach Alen Stajcic will take on former side Australia in the Asian Cup on Monday.

Former Matildas coach Alen Stajcic has dismissed any suggestion of split loyalties heading into Monday's Asian Cup clash between the Philippines and Australia.

Stajcic's Malditas, who posted a shock 1-0 win to open their tournament against Thailand on Friday, face an Australia riding high after an 18-0 demolition of Indonesia in their opener.

It will be the first meeting between Stajcic and many of the players he used to coach since his sudden and controversial axing as national team coach in 2019.

While the desire to have the last laugh would appear obvious, Stajcic insists his primary focus is on his new team after being appointed Philippines head coach in October.

"It's obviously an interesting game for me personally," Stajcic said after his team's victory over the Thais.

"In a coaching role like this where you're coaching another national team it's such a great honour so my allegiances of where I was born and raised get put to one side.

"I'm fully behind this team that I've spent the last three months with.

"We've developed, I believe, a really special bond."

Stajcic's former team, led by a five-goal performance from Sam Kerr, made a dominant start to their quest for a second Asian Cup crown.

Kerr became the greatest Australian goalscorer in internationals with the haul, moving to 54 strikes for the Matildas and bypassing Tim Cahill's record of 50 goals for the Socceroos in the process.

While his team also made a winning start, Stajcic knows they face a much tougher task against the Matildas.

"We've got a big game against Australia who are such a powerful team, one of the best teams in the world. We need to refocus," he said.

Stajcic is also dealing with a COVID outbreak within his squad, which broke on the eve of the Thailand clash and forced American-born midfielder Sarina Bolden to sit out the game.

"We're hoping she'll be back for the next game. The situation is still in doubt with our team," Stajcic said.

"It's been definitely the biggest mental hurdle I've had to overcome as a coach.

"I know the whole world has been living with the pandemic but to have it on the eve of the first match is really something difficult to overcome."

Australian Associated Press