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The Miracle of Pune: The Game that changed Herstory
Everybody is asleep once the clock strikes at 10pm, but most of us are still awake since mass gatherings are not allowed yet, and for the safety of each and everyone around us who are watching at the comforts of our own homes, whether you’re watching from your TV, your desktop, your laptop or even to your phone just to witness history.
Or even, her story. Their story! As we go wild for another milestone that we can add up on our history books in Filipino Football, and to the entire world of Football. For the first time, the Philippine Women’s National Team enters the semi-finals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022, and a golden ticket to one of the world’s most prestigious tournaments, the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Yes, we admit we are a hoop nation. No matter where you go in every town, every street corner to basketball courts, you would see a makeshift ring, some courts would have complete equipment or improvise just to shoot some hoops. It is a favorite sport by many Filipinos, others prefer Boxing, Billiards, Practical Shooting, Volleyball, even Football.
You’re wondering how we did it? Great preparation even if the tournament is getting closer, due to the safety restrictions and the rising number of cases, face-to-face training is not allowed unless it is under a bubble-controlled environment. Last October 2021, these lady booters were away from their families to train in the U.S. at Irvine, California for 2 months.
These ladies have sacrificed everything, shown their commitment, their focus and to remember that one goal. That is to become a beacon and a ray of hope. The spark that will light the fire, that they will prove around they’re not just a woman. They will do the same things as men can do. They’ll become a ray of hope for our nation, and spread their influence to all of their fellow sisters that they can do other things beyond their wildest dreams.
After Coach Marlon Maro’s departure, the search for the new gaffer of the women’s team is on the run, 2 months before the tournament. Until one man accepted the offer as he is looking for a nation to get their backs, and achieve a bit of history.
On October 26, 2021, the Philippine Football Federation appointed former Central Coast Mariners, and Matildas Coach Alen Stajćić, who led Australia twice in the FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifications in 2015 and 2019. Then they reached quarter-final appearances in both the Women’s World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
With all of his achievements, this is a good decision from the federation that would eventually put the 3 Stars and the Sun to the map of international football. Alen believes that he saw a great path to our Malditas aiming for that maiden appearance in the world’s biggest stage. It was challenging at first since there were no international matches due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Months later, Alen enjoyed the camaraderie and the spirit of our lady booters during their training sessions.
Throughout the tournament, the Malditas grabbed their first 3 points against Thailand in favor of Chandler McDaniel in the 80th minute, where she scored outside of the penalty area with a long shot effort on the right flank as the keeper managed to grab the ball, but went through her legs. The ball passed through the goal line making it 1 - nil.
As they face off the Matildas, and an unexpected reunion for Alen in this tournament. The Matildas’ previous match against Indonesia was a massacre scoring 18 goals to nil as they got the 3 points and a big goal difference placing on top of the table in Group B followed by the Philippines in second place.
The moment they faced Australia, it was a scoreless first half as both sides gave everything they’ve got, until the Matildas won 4 goals to nil at the end of the second half. The Malditas showed them to hold their ground, and defend whatever it takes on the first 45 minutes until the final whistle.
It was a great performance for our lady booters as we move on for the final group match between Philippines and Indonesia. The score was 6 - nil in favor of Malditas as we booked our ticket for the quarter-final match against Chinese Taipei. As we fans prepare for the fight of our lives whatever the possible outcome would be, the fate of our Women’s national team, our beloved nation, and to the Filipino Football community.
Before we get pumped up, I and most Filipino Football fans would tune in to a podcast that their objective is to give you the status of our local football scene in our native tongue and they will converse into English, to promote the love of the beautiful game, sharing their insights, and their opinions about Filipino Football - the Eat Sleep Breathe Football.
I’ve been following this group for more than a year now, as they invite players and other individuals who are involved in the Football movement in the Philippines. As each member shared their insights for the next match, I was about to cry on what Johnny Pampa said, and if you want to watch the full livestream, click/tap here to view more.
Tears were about to fall on my eyes, and everyone expected the same thing. Regardless of the result, win or lose, we will be proud that these ladies waved our flag to represent their roots, of what they truly are, why they chose to represent our country instead of the other one. That livestream happened on a Saturday evening while I was preparing for dinner at the kitchen, and eating while I’m listening.
Aside from being a hoop nation, we Filipinos would go and spend an hour for Sabbath day not just to give thanks but to pray for our women’s national team for their safety, that we are with them in this fight, that they’re not just eleven, nor twenty, or a hundred, a thousand, but millions of their fellow countrymen standing side by side with them.
We don’t want to underestimate the enemy, and they also want that piece of the pie. Hours before kick-off, I was able to visit church in the afternoon, prayed, took my communion, and headed straight home to prepare to watch the game. Once our Malditas enters the pitch, each and everyone of them will write her story. As we’re about to watch our lady booters at the comfort of our homes to show their support.
Scoreless first half, but at the 48th minute during the 2nd half Quinley Quesada positions herself near the post within close range after the long throw, as she finds the back of the net making it 1 - nil. However, in the 82nd minute, Zhuo Li-ping, 8 minutes before the final whistle manages to hit it from long range outside the penalty area coming from the right flank as the ball hits on the top left corner as Taipei makes the equalizer to all 1.
As the final whistle blows, both teams go into extra time of 30 minutes but it was scoreless again. Then it would eventually lead to the most crucial part of the game, the Penalty Shootout. It is very nerve cracking, a battle of wits that would pull us on the edge of our seats.
After 2 hours of watching the stream, I paused it for a bit then listened to their live reaction stream. I really don’t want to watch the whole shootout as I stood up on my seat, closed my eyes and prayed while listening to Papi Jay and Johnny Pampa’s commentary.
After 3 shots from both teams, we noticed that Taipei kept on hitting the same spot at the bottom right corner, while we managed to get back until that 3rd shot from Jessica Miclat was saved, even from Capt. Hali Long’s 4th shot attempt was saved. Olivia McDaniel needs to bring her A-game, or else, we are out of the tournament.
Hope never dies, when McDaniel manages to read the ball’s trajectory and denies the 4th shot from Taipei, then the next one was unexpected. It was goalkeeper versus goalkeeper, Olivia made it even and stepped up to take the shot as the ball went into the bottom left corner. As for Papi Jay and Signore Pampa are screaming that we are still in the game. We are still alive! We are approaching the sudden death of who’s going to the semi-finals.
Another save from McDaniel, denying another shot and Sarina Bolden takes on the next shot. While I’m listening to the podcast then resumed to view the livestream again, both men are now crying saying that we won. I was prepping up my camera, pointed it to Bolden’s winning moment, then screamed with amazement then panned the camera to the podcast I was listening to.
120 minutes, and 4 shots later, Olivia McDaniel redeemed herself after 2 saves, and Sarina Bolden finds it at the back of the net hitting the top left corner. For the first time in Filipino Football History, the Malditas, our Women’s National Team are going not just to the semi-finals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, we secured a golden ticket to the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year in Australia and New Zealand.
If we were at the pub, we would feel the same thing as we witnessed this historic match as we celebrate outside, singing songs about their victory. The tension, the drama, and the pressure as we hold on to our seats at the comfort of our own homes. It is indeed a match that will write her story, and another one in the history books of Filipino Football.
I guess that the great El Romperredes is now smiling in the heavens seeing our Malditas, and our nation to enter the biggest stage in the world of Football.
Football is about to get popular again, as people around social media are sharing their posts from images to videos about the Malditas’ victory against Chinese Taipei. We’re going to the semi’s against South Korea this Thursday, but we're still having that hangover from last Sunday night. Now that the women’s national team are going to the FIFA World Cup, I guess it is time for the Azkals to also bring their A-game to the next level.
It’s been 12 years since the Miracle of Hanoi, followed by each tournament as the men’s football team worked their way up to secure a slot from the AFF Suzuki Cup to their first appearance in the AFC Asian Cup in 2019. Let this match be a source of inspiration for the Azkals and learn their lessons from their previous campaigns.
Preparation, motivated and passionate people are the keys to get that goal along with their commitment, hard work, and focus, not just to remember where their roots are, but why are they doing it to achieve something greater that they can possibly imagine.
Scout an even greater coach who has a big background in these tournaments. If the AFF Suzuki Cup is a broader stage that showcases some of the best players around South East Asia, the World Cup is far bigger than that. In Coach Alen's case, we wanted to have him stay for any longer, hoping for him for the best and let the Federation extend his contract as head coach for the Malditas.
Aside from our Filipina heroes to the likes of Gabriela Silang, Melchora Aquino, Teresa Magbanua, Rosa Sevilla de Alvero, Nieves Fernandez, Josefa Ilanes Escoda, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and others who got involved into our country’s history, these women are now our new heroes. If Hidilyn Diaz lifted millions of Filipinos during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Malditas stood their ground, dug in, and held their line against every adversary for only 90 minutes.
Now, stereotyping and crab mentality will be a never-ending issue, including discrimination and racism, but these people will realize to a point that their minds will explode like a powder keg, their narrow-minded mentality will put to an end to themselves. If you’re not proud of your country’s achievement then go seek another flag to serve for.
Expect that our lady booters will be discovered by top tier football clubs locally and internationally, then they’ll get to experience different styles of play in different countries, train more and go hungry for more to get better on the pitch. From the little girls to every teenage girl they will find the Malditas as their new inspiration, soon they will find a new interest aside from sending beauty queens to represent our country.
I've seen them in action last 2012, and I am proud of what the Malditas have done for our country. As long as I live, I will tell this to my future children, even to your kids, encourage them to play the beautiful game, and to the new generation about a feisty group of women who carried millions of Filipinos inside the ovaled pitch for only 90 minutes.
Not just that they’re half-bloods, but they chose to represent the colors of our flag. The blue horizontal stripe represents peace, truth, and justice. The red horizontal stripe represents patriotism, and valor. The white triangle represents equality, and inside that triangle? Is the 3 Stars and the Sun that represents the nation’s islands and provinces.
Finally, I and the rest of my brothers, and sisters, my fellow passionate Football fans, enter the biggest stage the world has ever known as we hear our National Anthem sung by our players, the coaching staff, and we stand at the terraces as we unfurl our National Flag inside the stadium.
Before that happens, don’t forget to tune in this Thursday for the semi-finals between the Philippines and South Korea at 4pm Manila Time.