It was a year that will live long in the memory of every Filipino football fan.
With a string of historic feats, the Philippine Women’s Football Team made 2022 the biggest one yet for the sport in the country.
A first-ever qualification to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, a historic bronze medal in the Southeast Asian Games and an AFF Women’s Championship crown for the country’s first major football trophy complete what was an awe-inspiring year for the team.
All told, the Filipinas played 30 matches, winning 18 of those including seven wins over higher-ranked opponents such as long-time ASEAN tormentors Thailand and Southeast Asian Games champion Vietnam. We played more matches and scored more goals than any other year in our history, by a mile.
“It’s been a remarkable year,” said coach Alen Stajcic, who took the coaching job in November 2022.
“To qualify for a World Cup for the first time in the history of the country is truly amazing. The bronze medal at the SEA Games was amazing. Winning the tournament at home for the first time, the AFF Championship, was really, really remarkable and humbling.”
When the Filipinas arrived in India for the 2022 Women’s AFC Asian Cup in January, they had high hopes of creating history having come close to qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup through the continental tournament in 2018 in Jordan.
So, when the first upset was pulled off at the expense of the Thais, 1-0, in Navi Mumbai, the Filipinas, who won for the first time in 13 meetings against their regional rivals, felt they were right on track.
“It was a weight off the shoulders for those with the team for a long time,” said Stajcic.
The Filipinas attained a quarterfinals spot and gave themselves a chance of nailing a World Cup spot after beating Indonesia, 6-0.
With the threat of COVID-19 hanging over the tournament, however, avoiding illness was crucial for the Filipinas. Strict protocols were followed, with staff and players only converging for training and meetings.
Against Chinese-Taipei, they showed grit, determination and mental fortitude to fight back and win in the penalty shootout, sparking jubilation at home. Released from quarantine just two days prior, Quinley Quezada scored the opening goal early in the second half. And after the Filipinas fell behind in the shootout, Olivia McDaniel came up with a couple of big saves and delivered a penalty of her own. Then came Sarina Bolden who fired the penalty to the top corner to ensure the Filipinas’ triumph.
On the field, players shed tears of joy as they achieved a long cherished goal of making it to the World Cup. The Asian Cup run ended in a semifinal defeat to Korea Republic a few days later. Nevertheless, in an impassioned interview after the match, Bolden expressed how proud she was of the team.
“A lot of people doubted us, but we came in here and fought every single game and now have made a name for ourselves,” said Bolden, fighting back tears.
“Philippines, you’re gonna remember this team. And you’re going to see us in the World Cup. Don’t forget about us because we’re coming back.”
The next mission of the Filipinas was to end a 36-year wait for a Southeast Asian Games medal in Vietnam. The Filipinas kept their focus and consistently worked on improvement and growth as a squad. A camp in Australia prepared them for battle in Vietnam.
Taking the lead against Vietnam before 16,000 fans proved to be an encouraging sign, but the Filipinas still lost to the reigning SEA Games champions, a result that set up a semifinal showdown with a Thai team aching for payback.
In the bronze medal match against Myanmar, the Filipinas seemed headed for heartbreak, but Bolden and Quinley Quezada struck in the second half to propel the team to a podium finish.
Competitions showcased the Filipinas strength and grit, but the hard work and sacrifice put in by everyone in the group in training camps are just as important.
The Filipinas played Republic of Ireland in Turkey in June and narrowly lost, 0-1, before claiming their first win on European soil, 3-0, at the expense of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Slovenia. The rematch with Bosnia saw the Filipinas fall behind, before completing a comeback to remember, 2-1.
That win proved to be a nice prelude to the Filipinas’ homecoming in the AFF Women’s Championship hosted by the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) last July.
Even with a tough draw, the Filipinas navigated a tricky group, nipping Australia, 1-0, in their first match. After finishing second in the group, the Filipinas set up a showdown with Vietnam in the semifinals.
A powerful header from Hali Long set the tone for an incredible 4-0 win that had the Rizal Memorial Stadium rocking.
It was a sign of things to come.
Facing the Thais again, this time for a gold medal, the Filipinas took their game to the next level with a decisive 3-0 victory in front of 8,200 fans. The Filipinas captured the imagination of a country which had now discovered new sports heroines.
“It’s the best moment in Philippine football,” said Long.
The draw for the FIFA Women’s World Cup was fast approaching and Stajcic stressed the importance of the Filipinas familiarizing themselves with teams from different continents. The next friendly came against World Cup host New Zealand in California. While the Filipinas held their own and even took the lead thanks to Bolden, they were undone by a controversial penalty call and a late goal.
Costa Rica hosted the Filipinas in October with two matches. Again, the Filipinas showed plenty of fight against a higher ranked opponent, forcing a 1-1 draw after a late strike by Katrina Guillou. The second match saw the Filipinas take the lead on Carleigh Frilles goal only for the hosts to take the win, 2-1, on two second half goals.
In October, the Filipinas also learned who they will be facing in the FWWC. The Filipinas clash with Switzerland in Dunedin on July 21, before facing host New Zealand four days later in Wellington. The last group match is set in Auckland on July 30 against Norway, the top ranked team in the group.
Another camp in South America followed, this time with Chile as hosts. In Viña Del Mar, Chile, the Filipinas took the lead through Hali Long, before conceding in the second half for a 1-1 tie, another significant result for Stajcic’s side. The rematch in Santiago saw the Filipinas absorb a 0-1 defeat in a match where they dominated the second half.
The year was winding down, yet the Filipinas were still giving everything they’ve got, traveling, training and playing matches against quality opposition with an eye on the World Cup.
“We’re learning how to travel, learning how to travel across time zones and getting your body right in preparation for a match,” said Stajcic. “There’s so many things that we achieved, so many things that we did, playing different footballing countries and different pedigrees.”
While the Filipinas deservedly grabbed the spotlight with their noteworthy performances, team manager Jefferson Cheng stayed in the background even as his impact was felt by everyone in the team.
“We’ve said it many times, but the support of Jefferson Cheng is amazing,” said Stajcic. “The players and the staff are blessed to have his support in sponsoring this team and for us to achieve the things that we have.”
The Filipinas wrapped up 2022 with a camp in Sydney, Australia. Two convincing wins over Papua New Guinea punctuated a stellar year for the Filipinas, including a 9-0 demolition that saw Quinley Quezada grab a hattrick to become the team’s all-time leading scorer with 20 goals.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” said Stajcic. “The 12 months, the 30 “A” internationals, for us to win 18 of those is an incredible stat for the group. It’s been an incredible ride and one that I’ve enjoyed. I love coming to work every day for this group, for the staff, for the players, it’s a united group.”
Stajcic believes the team has grown with every match they played in 2022, although there’s plenty of work ahead to be the best team they can be for the World Cup next year. The Filipinas also ended the year with their best FIFA ranking yet at No. 53.
“They’re growing in belief every single time that we go on the pitch,” he said. “Saying that, we know we’ve achieved a lot but there’s a mountain to climb before the World Cup and we know how much more we need to improve in preparation for the World Cup.”
It’s been a great year, we put it in our back pocket and be proud of our efforts and give ourselves a pat in the back because we really have achieved a great deal, but the reality is we know how much we have to work harder to climb up that mountain next year.”