(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s Jan. 29 edition)
OVERSHADOWED for years by the men’s national team, the Philippines women’s national football team is on the cusp of history, a win away from achieving something no Philippine football team has ever done before.
The Malditas are a win away from the World Cup.
Yes, that World Cup, and it’s happening in our lifetime.
Thailand was the first of our first in this AFC Asian Women’s Cup on Jan. 21, 2022. Having lost to the Thais in 12 previous meetings, the Malditas, thanks to a three-month training camp in the United States, brought the fight to their foes ranked 26 places higher in the world. A probing strike by Chandler McDaniel in the 80th and a bungled play by the Thai keeper finally ended that streak.
Then next came mighty Australia, the highest-ranked team at No. 11 in the world that a Philippine football team has ever faced. But that gap didn’t show much in the first half as a resolute Malditas defense held the Matildas scoreless in the first half. In the second half, the Australians finally broke through and got four past the debuting Kiara Fontanilla.
Despite the loss, hopes were high for a quarterfinal spot, thanks to that win against Thailand. The only hurdle left was Indonesia and on Jan. 27, 2022, the girls delivered.
Sarina Bolden may have missed a fifth-minute penalty, a questionable call, but Katrina Guillou, who had a goal disallowed for offside against Thailand and had another shot hitting the bar, made no mistake from close range, chesting the ball and getting it past the Indon keeper for 1-0. Bolden made amends 20 minutes later with a powerful header and in the second half, captain Tahnai Annis made her case from long distance for 3-0.
Jessica Miclat converted a penalty in the 74th before Annis caught the keeper from beyond the penalty box for one of the best goals I’ve seen in the tournament. And five minutes into injury time, teenager Malea Cesar converted the easiest of gimmes to complete the rout.
And on Sunday, No. 39 Chinese Taipei is standing in our way of an automatic World Cup spot. Five spots are up for grabs in the AFC Women’s Cup, one each for the semifinalists plus the No. 5. Beat Chinese Taipei and history, or herstory, is ours.
But the last two times we’ve faced Taiwan, we lost, 4-2 and 5-0 in the Tokyo qualifiers. But as coach Ernie Nierras, who used to handle the team, pointed out, before this event, we never beat the Thais.
Beat Thailand for the first time. Check.
Make the knockout stage for the first time. Check.
Good things come in threes, they say. I hope that holds true on Sunday.
These days, too much focus has been given on the EJ Obiena vs. Patafa fight. It has all left a rather bad taste in the mouth, no matter which side you’re rooting for or even if you’re not rooting for any side at all.
Let’s all forget about that on Sunday and focus on something good for Philippine sports. We have a chance at history and let’s all get behind the women’s national team.