The Philippines completed the ascent to the top of the AFF Women’s Championship 2022 last night with a vengeful 3-0 win over Thailand in the final in front of a delighted hometown crowd at the packed Rizal Memorial Stadium
Sporting bright red battle colors and energized by 8,257 noisy local fans, the Filipinas took the fight to the Thais, earning payback for their 0-1 setback in the group stage while bagging the country’s first major international title.
It was the latest laurel for the spirited charges of Australian coach Alen Stajcic, who qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time with their semifinal finish in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup last February and a bronze-medal finish in the 31st Southeast Asian Games last May.
Defender Jessika Cowart bulldozed her way to the front in heading the first goal just seven minutes into the match off a precise right corner kick by skipper Tahnai Annis then Katrina Guillou threaded the needle inside the box in giving the hosts a surprise 2-0 lead at the break.
And, fittingly, it was irrepressible striker Sarina Bolden who hammered the final nail into the Thailand coffin with a header in the 88th minute, before exiting almost immediately to a standing ovation from the crowd.
The margin could have been bigger if not for the goaltending heroics of Thai keeper Chotmanee Thongmongkol, who was kept busy all night by the predatory hosts.
Her Philippine counterpart, Olivia McDaniel, also shared the spotlight and was superb at the net as usual, especially late in the second half when the four-time champions pressed the attack.
Earlier, Myanmar completed dethroned Vietnam’s humiliation with a thrilling come-from-behind 4-3 win in taking home the bronze medal.
Scoreless in her previous outings, striker San Thaw Thaw cut loose with a hat trick, including the winning goal in the 88th minute on a follow-up in relegating the Vietnamese to fourth place for one of their most miserable outings in the tournament.
“This win is truly exhilarating. We’ve climbed a little hill tonight; we’ve conquered Southeast Asia but I know they are big mountains ahead. It is a big hill to climb and there are bigger challenges ahead of us,” said Stacjic, the architect of first major international football win for the Philippines.
Setting up the rematch for the hosts was their stirring 4-0 upset of defending champion Vietnam in the semifinals last Friday.
The Filipinas continued their relentless drive in the second half, with veteran forward Quinley Quezada getting a clear shot from the right wing in the 60th minute, but the ball hit the right goal post and was cleared by Thongmongkol.
With the exception of defender Dominique Randle, Stajcic assembled what could be his strongest starting 11 led by skipper Annis, inspirational striker Bolden and veteran defenders Eva Madarang, Sofia Harrison and Hali Long plus Jessica Miclat ant Sara Eggesvik patrolling the midfield.