The Philippine Women’s National Football Team racked two impressive wins against Fiji in Australia. The “friendlies” were part of the Malditas’ preparations for the upcoming Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam next month.
The Malditas were relentless in the games against Fiji, and hopefully their momentum will carry them further until the biggest sporting event in the region.
Equally excited by the reality that the Malditas have qualified for the 2024 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand are Isabelle Mapanao, Micha Pauline Santiago and Abigail Agustin Taylor.
The three were members of the U-16 national team before, and as early as now, they have set a collective goal of being part of the next generation of Malditas that will compete in the next World Cup in 2027.
Mapanao was actually part of the Malditas’ squad that competed in Uzbekistan for the Asian Cup qualifiers and joined the two-month camp in the United States, but was cut before the team went on to clinch that historic World Cup slot in Pune, India during the 2022 Asian Cup.
Mapanao is based in Geneva and plays for Versoix FC. Her family moved to the Swiss capital when she was just three months old and was on her last day in the country for a vacation when we got together for a short chat.
Santiago and Taylor, both 17 years old, play for their respective schools and clubs here in the Philippines. Santiago plays for De La Salle Zobel while Taylor suits up for the British School in Manila and for the country’s youth teams.
The three girls have been friends for the last few years and have been close despite the pandemic and the distance. All three started playing early, with Taylor getting into the sport as early as five years old while Santiago started at 6. Both are defenders in their respective teams now.
Mapanao, on the other hand, initially started as a striker when she was seven before eventually settling to man the posts which she eventually became good at.
Five years from now, they are hoping that they get to play in the biggest event they have dreamed of since they were just kids.
“It’s my biggest dream to be part of the World Cup even now. I’m still hoping that I could be part of the Australia World Cup 2023. We will start training. We will train hard and work hard and be consistent about it and we’ll see results,” Mapanao said.
Taylor chimed in on what her friend and teammate said. “I think it’s just working hard and if there’s opportunity somewhere else, to like look into that because if you can go overseas to train and play with other people from different countries, you see how they play and learn from them. And when you come back here, you’re able to show that to them. And I think you’ll just make the game a lot better and like, more fun because you get to learn from other people too. And yeah, it’s just it’s just an exciting journey for everyone. We’ll just see where life brings us.”
Santiago also dreams of playing in the World Cup for the glory it brings to the country. “The World Cup is very significant, not only for us individually but also actually for the country. So, it’s very important because the Philippines actually deserves to be seen as a country that is growing gradually when it comes to football but more importantly because every Filipino whom I know who has set a goal actually aims to achieve it. And they tend to work so hard. It’s very significant because we want to show how proud we are as we show to the world how great we are.”
Football is such a big part of their lives now both on and off the pitch and may become even bigger in the future if they stay committed and keep their passion for the sport burning until they reach their ultimate goal.
“It’s good for you to learn the sport. When you have football, you’re able to get away from stressful things such as school problems. It pushes your mind somewhere else. It lets me like be in a different world with no problems. I don’t have to worry. And it makes it me feel good. Football is a good thing,” Taylor said.
For Santiago, aside from representing the country, she also picked up important life lessons while playing the sport.
“When I was introduced to this sport, I learned how to love it. I learned how to be passionate about it and I learned how to set a goal. So, it really changed the way I see things. It really changed my perspective, especially in terms of balancing and communicating because that’s the key role of defenders communicate. I learned so much about it. It’s like a tool that helps me learn every day and helps me have the motive to continue to grow and develop as a person, as a teammate and as part of society,” she explained.
The 18-year-old Mapanao says football has also done a lot of things for her. She said much has happened since Roland Mueller, the former Philippine Azkals and Ceres Negros FC goalkeeper, gave his gloves to her in an event in Geneva when she was not yet a teenager. Mueller is also based in Switzerland.
“I think you can also put like football into a life situation. If you fall down and you make a mistake, you can always get back up and like work better work harder and use it as a learning experience. And like with the real-life situation, when something pushes you down or something makes you upset or hurt you, you can always get back from it. You can always learn from what made you upset or hurt and you learn from it and you go as a better person. And when football when you make a mistake, you grow as a player and a better footballer, and also with the community I think it’s good because you’re you surround yourself with new people. And you learn about other people and you build a family even with the coaches,” she added.
Mapanao has just been invited to join West Ham Academy in the United Kingdom next year. She also got into a sports program in Switzerland. She is, however, leaning more toward going to East London and learn more how football is being played in the Premier League which has a very competitive women’s league too.
“The English league is a big league. And I think it’s another level for me to challenge myself. And to improve. And I think that’s a good thing,” she said.
Taylor is also eyeing the possibility of playing in the United States and in Southeast Asia after her finishing Senior High while Santiago intends to keep playing and eventually join De La Salle University’s women’s football team.
For their fans out there, Mapanao has something to say to them. “Just go for it. You have a dream, you strive for something, put your mind into it and set it into reality. There will always be low sides of football like when I got cut, I felt really unworthy. I lost my confidence and I just learned from it, took the experience, be grateful and work even harder.
So just go for itknowing that you’re good,” she added.
The three ladies are expected to vie for slots in the team that will compete in the Under-20 AFC Qualification Tournament next year.
My sincere thanks for good friend Raymund Villanueva and Lakay Donnie Mapanao for making this interview possible and to Coach Belay Fernando-Dela Cruz from bringing the ladies together in the national team.
My gratitude, too, to Marisse Santiago and all parents who continue to support their kids’ football dreams and aspirations. You are the true heroes behind every football team of the country, to say the least.
Supportive and loving parents are also the reasons why, as early as now, I can say the future of the Malditas looks bright. There are so many talented, dedicated and sun-and-three-stars loving players patiently waiting on the wings to take their turn and make us proud because of you.
Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!
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