(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s July 28 edition)
Officially, it takes an hour after the first half whistle for a football match to end, including the 15-minute break. But that hour between the whistles ending the first half and full-time against New Zealand seemed like an eternity.
An hour or so before the match, I went with some office mates as they lit candles at the Santiago Apostle Church in Badian, which was celebrating its fiesta. I thought of lighting one, too, but decided against it.
I may not be religious, but when it comes to sports—especially the national football teams—I am certainly superstitious and one of my superstitions is you never involve The Guy above.
Minutes before the match, a fellow writer whom I was planning to catch the final Filipinas game against Norway with said he couldn’t make it. I didn’t reply nor acknowledge his message for an hour before he sent it, I also informed a staff member of Jeff Cheng—who was assisting us to get to New Zealand—that I couldn’t make it. I thought it was a lucky coincidence.
After New Zealand had us backpedaling early, Sarina Bolden had her moment.
First attempt. 1-0 Philippines. It was magical. Her shout was for us all—the guys and gals in the stadium, the folks on press row, those in watch parties and those who couldn’t shout while stuck in offices following the game on mobile.
Then the second half happened. New Zealand upped the pressure but the ladies were up to it, especially Olivia McDaniel. There was that sequence when the home team seemed to be zeroing in, getting free headers, including one from a corner kick played to the middle.
How quick the Ferns were in the second half. After Sara Eggesvik lost the ball near the New Zealand box, McDaniel was forced to come out of her box to stop an attack.
We’ve had our bad luck as a sporting nation, the Robbery in Atlanta 96 involving Mansueto Velasco against Daniel Petrov being one of them. But on July 25, 2023 Lady Luck was on our side.
In the 65th, Jacqui Hand hit the post with rebound going straight to McDaniel and two minutes later Hannah Wilkinson’s header sailed past McDaniel only to be disallowed because of an earlier offside, thanks to VAR.
I’ve long ceased trying to understand offside VAR calls but at that moment, I whispered a message of thanks. There were some comical moments, too. Carleigh Frilles, a late sub, collected an errant goal kick but her harried shot went nowhere and minutes later, she failed to see the offside flag and played on.
But the second half belonged to McDaniel. You know the saying that your life flashes before you just before you die? I think the football life of Filipino fans flashed before them when the fourth official showed there were five added minutes.
I had visions of all sorts of headlines, thankfully our No. 1 was there. A reflex save on Grace Jale’s shot kept us ahead, a save that reminded me of Gordon Banks against Pele and of Emiliano Martinez’s save against France. Considering the circumstances and moment, that was the greatest save by a Filipino keeper, ever.
And I think it was fitting that our longest hour ended with McDaniel kicking the ball high in the air.