In what will probably go down in history as the game that changed football forever in the country, the Philippine Women’s Football Team clinched the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Women’s Championship last Sunday, 17 July. This first-ever achievement was reached via an awesome 3-0 wipeout win over powerhouse Thailand at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. (Pls watch: Filipinas Win ASEAN Football Championship)
The ladies had earlier secured a World Cup appearance for the first time via a successful semi-final finish in the Women’s Asian Cup held in India last January. The team also snapped a decades-long medal drought in the SEA Games with a bronze medal haul behind women’s football heavyweights Vietnam and Thailand. By winning the 2022 AFF trophy last Sunday before a rabid and rapidly growing fan base, the ladies showed that the World Cup slot and the bronze medal finish were certainly no flukes.
(On a slightly different note, the team was originally fondly called the ‘Malditas’ for their feisty character and competitive fire. The nickname has been recently withdrawn due to what some officials felt was a derogatory meaning attached to it. Hence, the monicker ‘Filipinas’ is now in use. Personally, I like the nickname ‘Malditas’ for this unit. It better embodies their desire to win, to not be intimidated by any opposition, to fight fire with fire, to claw their way up the world rankings. The ‘Filipinas’, on the other hand, depicts a lady-like and non-aggressive character, to my mind. The branding seems a bit awkward. Whoever thought of the new monicker should maybe review that.)
Indeed, the fan base grew magically, as the ladies gifted the fans with win after win after win. Reaching the semifinals with just a single loss (to eventual co-finalist Thailand 1-0), our lady booters demolished the other ASEAN powerhouse Vietnam 4-0 leading to the Finals. The win was a significant one for the team, having never tasted a single victory ever in the 15 games they have played against the Vietnamese side. The euphoria over winning was one thing, but dominating them was a completely new elevating experience for the team! Now the ladies realized that they had what it takes to play with the big guns.
And from mere hundreds, the fans started to pour in to the Rizal Memorial Stadium, creating more excitement, giving inspiration and extra energy for our players. By the time the ladies took to the field against their erstwhile tormentor Thailand in the Finals, there were now 8 thousand plus screaming fans rooting for them. And they were now a transformed team. This was now a stronger, more menacing, more focused and vastly-improved team that the Thais were going up against. And with a 12th-man (err…. woman?) in the loud boisterous fans in the stands to boot.
The fans came from the families and friends, the different football clubs, schools and neighboring communities. Support also came from local clubs and small barkadas, even neighboring regions who trooped to the Stadium hoping for a first-ever football crown for the country. Here was a reason to show national pride, a rare chance for all sectors who had just recently been through a divisive election to come together, united in their love for the country. Here was an opportunity to elevate the game into the consciousness of our people, not just the fans. Here was a chance to deliver a message of hope, that through hard work, unity and mutual support, the Filipino people can be successful in any endeavor.
How were the Malditas (I still say that the nickname is apt for this feisty and prideful team) able to achieve their goal despite coming from different parts of the world, different cultures and different football programs? The on-field chemistry, the jelling and the meshing of the players did not happen overnight. It came after a lot of bonding on and off the field, learning their set pieces (did you see their corner kick specialty?), learning to trust the process, developing respect and camaraderie with one another, providing an open mind for new ideas, and believing in themselves and their ability to win. Teamwork was paramount, and this was clear in the set pieces in offense, the crisp passing, the no-nonsense defense. Head Coach Alan Stajcic was able to inculcate in the team the essence of teamwork, the need to stay hungry and humble, and the opportunities for themselves and for the country. By raising the bar, by creating standards of excellence, Coach Stajcic led them to new heights.
And its impact on our country is simply unfathomable. It has gotten more people excited not just about women’s football or football in general, it has created opportunities for Philippine Sports while highlighting its immense potential. It has opened our eyes to talk about the country’s future in the sport; given the dedication, the character, the discipline that these ladies epitomize. What if we are able to work on this victory to inspire and develop discipline and unity among our youth?
What’s next for Philippine Football? The target is to be a powerhouse in Asia, to be able to compete against the likes of Japan, Korea, China, etc. And to be able to play and learn from the big guns the world over. Apart from that, the Philippine Football Federation should bring the team to tour the country, to showcase their talents, inspire the local fans, practice and teach the young kids, demonstrate their practice drills, their set pieces. Teaching should not be limited to the kids, but to coaching and managing, thus creating a grassroots ripple effect. By doing so, not only do we develop new talents, we are also growing the fan base even bigger, so that there is more consciousness to cheer for the ladies in the World Cup and beyond.
Question is: with the success of the Malditas and their forays in the international arena, coupled with the growing popularity of local women’s volleyball, and the disastrous performance of the men’s basketball team, are we seeing a shift in the fan base in Philippine Sports? Compare the 8,000 plus fans that packed the Stadium for the AFF Finals and the big number of equally rabid fans watching women’s volleyball, with the fan presence in the PBA today. You be the judge.
For a clearer view, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of ESPN. Other pics courtesy of Tiebreaker Times, Facebook, Philippine Star, GoodNewsPilipinas.com, SMNI News Channel, ABS-CBN News, Daily Tribune, Malaya Business News and PTV News. Video by Philstar News.