In historic first, PH women make it to football’s grandest stage
Malditas, Filipinas, call them whatever you like. But the Philippine women’s national football team did something Sunday night that no one, man or woman, in this basketball-mad country has ever done—qualify for soccer’s World Cup.
The Malditas practically squeezed themselves into football’s grandest stage, tying Chinese-Taipei 1-1 at the end of 90 frenetic minutes then beating the Taiwanese women 4-3 in a penalty shootout, soccer’s mano-a-mano process that sifts the dreamers from the achievers and brings pride to a country that can last for generations.
With the victory at the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune, India, the PH women punched their ticket to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup next year in Australia, and also advanced to the semifinals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, where they will face formidable South Korea next.
But that was the least of the worries of national team coach Alen Stajcic, saying the “once-in-a-lifetime” achievement can inspire a new generation of Filipino football players, boys and girls alike.
“It’s an unbelievable achievement by the group, it’s a moment in history for the country and no one can ever take that away from the group, it’s a new bar that’s been set,” said Stajcic, an Australian.
“Now every young kid, girl, and boy, back in the Philippines knows they can be inspired and get to the World Cup themselves. I know the group is really proud of each other, but I know they’re even more proud that they’ve inspired the next generation,” added the coach, who only got the job last November.
“It’s a remarkable achievement, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime, one that’s never been done before. So, you just really have to soak up these moments,” he added.
The Malditas’ triumph drew praise from Malacanang, the Philippine Olympic Committee, various politicians and government officials, and, perhaps more fittingly, from Hidilyn Diaz—the woman who gave the country its first Olympic gold medal through weightlifting in the Tokyo Games last July.
“Nakakaiyak panoorin ito. Congrats, bound to the World Cup! Galing, nakakaproud, at nakakaiyak talaga makita ito (Watching it brought me to tears… It’s great, makes me so proud, it really made me cry watching this),” Diaz wrote on her Instagram account.
“Nakita ko ang saya ng mga athletes nung nag-goal. Ramdam ko ang love nila sa sports, at ginagawa nila ang best nila, at reaction ng mga coaches nila. Salamat sa magandang balita. Salamat for bringing pride for our country,” the Olympian added.
[I saw the joy of the athletes when they scored the goal. I felt their love for sports, and they did their best, and the reaction of their coaches said it all. Thanks for this great news.]
In the end, it came down to two Malditas—Olivia McDaniel and Sarina Bolden—to complete the Philippines’ date with World Cup history.
McDaniel, the Malditas’ goalkeeper, said she did not feel nervous when she took one of the five penalty kicks—tying the score 3-3 with a shot past Chinese-Taipei’s Cheng Ssu-yu to force sudden death, then deflecting Zhuo Li-Ping’s attempt to set up Bolden.
Llike her attempt against Indonesia earlier in the tournament, Bolden decided to slot the ball into the left side, and Cheng found the shot too fast to save as the former knocked the ball in to win it for the Malditas.
Zhuo’s penalty miss turned out to be a heartbreaker, as she had sent the match into extra time with an 82nd-minute goal from outside the right elbow, canceling Quinley Quezada’s opening goal for the Philippine side in the 49th minute.
In college, McDaniel said she got used to hitting penalty shots with her varsity squad, the Milwaukee Panthers, during her days in US NCAA Division I.
“I was more nervous to stop PK (penalty kicks) than to take PKs. I have been taking PKs for the Panthers. Now, I get no nerves, because you know, it’s gonna get to the back of the net,” said McDaniel.
Olivia, the elder sister of teammate Chandler McDaniel, got a chance to score the Philippines’ third goal when she momentarily left her goalkeeping chores to convert with a right-footed shot to the bottom left corner.
The feeling of confidence was in her psyche when she converted her attempts and made at least five good saves during the game.
McDaniels and Filipino-American striker Bolden then knocked in the last two goals for the Philippines, which joined Japan, Korea, and China to the 2023 World Cup in Australia.
In reaching the Asian Football Confederation semis, Alen Stajcic said they won’t be thinking of reaching the finals, now that the girls are in celebratory mode over their World Cup qualification.
“I can’t say that (we will go for the title). We just crawled our way up the World Cup tonight,” he said.
The Philippines’ first goal in the shootout came from Sarah Castaneda, who volleyed it in after Taiwanese booter Ting Chi scored.
The score got tied at 2-all after Wang Hsiang Wei and Tahnai Annis traded goals for their respective teams. Chen Ying-Hui sent in the third goal for Chinese Taipei following Jessica Miclat’s miss.
After that, McDaniel got in the way of the last two of three Taiwanese attempts from Hsu Yi Yun and Su Hsin Yun.
South Korea also made it to the World Cup after beating Australia, 1-0, but the Australian Matildas still got a seat since the country is hosting the 2023 World Cup for Women.
Japan eased out Thailand, 1-0, to likewise reach the AFC semifinals.