The Philippine Women’s National Team made history by qualifying for next year’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup after a late 1-1 draw against Bahrain last night at the Republican Central Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
A goal down heading to the final few minutes, midfielder Sara Castaneda equalized in the 82nd minute to seal the Philippines’ progress to the final round as the second best team in Group A with 10 points. The Philippines are the sixth team to qualify for the final round joining China, Australia, Japan, Thailand, and tournament hosts Jordan.
“It was a crazy match. It was like playing for the title,” said head coach Letecia Bautista. “We wanted this more so we were able to bounce back and I am just thankful for the result. I am speechless.”
On the back of a three-game winning run, the Philippines only needed to draw Bahrain to book their passage the final round. However, Bahrain proved to be a tough opponent as they too were also looking for a spot to the final round.
Bahrain brought the game to the Philippines and went close midway in the first half. Marwa Zayed picked out Reem Al-Hashimi in the box, but the forward sent her shot wide.
The Philippine side found their form heading in to the break. Hanna Parado sent a volley that was straight to the keeper in the 44th minute. Eva Madarang should have netted the opener right before half-time, but her shot went inches wide.
Similar to the first half, Bahrain started the second half strong. Patricia Tomanon was needed to clear away the threat in the 52nd minute, but three minutes later Bahrain finally penetrated the Philippine defense.
Noora Al Dossary ran past the defense and sent a looping ball over Inna Palacios and in to the back of the net. It was the first goal that the Philippines have conceded in the qualifiers.
Bahrain’s goal may have dampened the mood of the Philippines, but their resolve were not broken. Madarang was quick to level things in the 60th minute, but her effort came to nothing after the flag was up for offside.
Still, the Philippines carried on and finally equalized in the 82nd minute. Tomanon launched the ball to Madarang in the box. The forward flicked it to space where Castaneda was making a run. The midfielder, who was unmarked and only had the goalkeeper to beat, sent the ball to the roof of the net with a timely volley to put the Philippines level, and more importantly, through to the final round.
The Philippines still had enough in them to snatch the win and take maximum points. Claire Lim sent a long ball that was only denied by the upright in the 89th minute, and a late corner in added time was cleared off the line.
When the final whistle was blown, the job was finally accomplished and the Philippines qualified for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup.
Team captain Patrice Impelido admitted the game proved to be a highly emotional affair for her. Impelido, along with Palacios, were the remaining members of the 2013 squad that came close to qualifying.
“This game was a roller-coaster ride of emotions. I was talking with Inna (Palacios) before the game and said that we’re almost there. One more game. Only 90 minutes,” said the skipper. “And when that final whistle blew, we did it! We’re going to Jordan! We hugged and I cried tears of joy.”
Impelido added that despite going behind, the team never gave up which paved way for Castaneda scoring the equalizing goal.
“We had a few good chances in the first half that we weren’t able to capitalize. We knew a goal was coming. Even though Bahrain was able to score first we never gave up,” continued Impelido. “There was still plenty of time in the 2nd half. We kept fighting. We kept our composure and worked as a team. And that’s how Sara was able to score that equalizer.”
Philippine Football Federation General-Secretary Atty. Edwin Gastanes praised the performance of the Women’s team in Tajikistan.
“The young and the fearless team, our Philippine Women’s National Team did a gutsy job and made us all and our country proud. The Philippines will be one of only 8 countries in Asia in the finals of the 2018 Asian Women’s Cup Jordan. 5 of 8 competing national teams will go to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 in France. We need to sustain the campaign and hope for good results in Jordan,” said Gastanes. “Meantime, PFF hopes the POC-PSC SEA Games 2017 Task Force approve our earlier request to send a women football team in the SEA Games this August 2017. Our current women football campaign deserves no less. Laban Pilipinas!”
The Philippines still have a chance of finishing on top of Group A when they face top seed Jordan on Wednesday, 12 April.
Photo from Tajikistan Football Federation