Filipinas: our joy and pride          

By Artchil B. Fernandez

Finally, after nearly a century of waiting, the Philippine national anthem was played in the biggest sport event in the world – the FIFA World Cup. Listening to “Lupang Hinirang” in the World Cup for the first time in almost a hundred years is an intensely surreal and magical experience evoking and stirring deep emotion. Having goose bumps is an understatement.

The long-awaited historic moment happened last week at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand. The Philippines for the first time qualified and joined seven other debutants (Haiti, Morocco, Panama, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland, Vietnam and Zambia). This is the ninth edition of the women’s World Cup.  As of this writing, the tournament is still in progress.

The Philippines was bracketed in Group A. It joined New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland in the group, all veterans of the global competition.  Norway is a former champion of the tournament, winning the top prize in 1995. As the only first-timer in the group, the Philippines is also the lowest ranked at 46 (Norway – 12, Switzerland – 20, and New Zealand – 26).

From the beginning, the Filipinas (Malditas) made it clear they are not in the World Cup to merely participate but to make their mark. It is a daunting task considering their global rank and the current state of football in the country. Nevertheless, they hoped they can use their qualification to announce the arrival of Philippine football in the world stage.

The first match of the Filipinas was against Switzerland in Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, New Zealand. It was the country’s first taste of blood in the World Cup dueling with a European veteran.  In the first half, the Malditas sent the crowd shrieking when Katrina Guillou found the back of the net in the 16th minute. However, the euphoria was short-lived for it was ruled off-side.

Reality struck the Filipinas when a penalty was awarded to Switzerland in a controversial call in the 45th minute (extension time) which was coolly converted. First-half ended, 1–0 in favor of the Europeans.

In the second half, the Swiss earned an insurance goal despite the heroic effort of the Malditas in defending their turf. Game ended with a 2-0 victory for the Europeans. The score line however was not bad for a debutant where they were expected to lose big.

Despite the loss to the Swiss, the Filipinas came to their second match in high spirit buoyed by a narrow defeat in the previous game. Playing against the host, they were clearly the underdog in Wellington Regional Stadium. The host team entered the game flushed with their first ever World Cup win after defeating Norway.

The NZ Ferns were aggressive and on attack mode after the whistle blew in the first-half.  The host was clearly hunting for an early goal and placed the Filipinas on the defensive in the first 20 minutes of the game. Then a rare opportunity opened in the 24th minutes when a cross from Sara Eggesvik was converted by Sarina Bolden’s header to a goal. Filipinos in the 32,375-crowd erupted into frenzy celebration.

It was truly a historic momentous juncture for Philippine football. The Philippines for the first time scored a goal in a World Cup. The entire football community in the country was on fire with that first ever World Cup goal of the country.

Early goal and holding on to it is an arduous and grueling task. The Ferns became more determined to equalize and pummeled the Philippine defense until the final whistle in the first-half, with the Filipinas in the driver’s seat, 1-0.

Hungry for an equalizer and under tremendous pressure from the home crowd, the Ferns dominated the second half with relentless attacks, pressuring the Filipinas’ defense. They have plenty of chances, but the valiant resistance of the Filipinas foiled the Ferns. In the 68th minute the host broke down the Philippine defense and scored a goal. But to the disappointment of the host and their supporters, the goal was disallowed with an offside call after a VAR review by the referee.

Until the final whistle, New Zealand was relentless in its quest for an equalizer. Only the brilliant and sharp saves of Olivia McDaniel prevented the host from scoring. McDaniel had many memorable saves in the match, especially the critical one in the 3rd minute of injury time. This earned her the Player of the Game award.

Match between the Ferns and Filipinas ended with a hard-fought win for the Philippines, 1-0. History was once again rewritten for it was the first Philippine victory in the World Cup. The Filipinas were also the first debutant in this edition of the World Cup to win a game. Philippine football has truly arrived in the world stage and the triumph put the country on the global football map.

This is a remarkable achievement, rarely achieved at the highest level of the sport. New Zealand for example got it first win in the World Cup on its 16th game and 6th participation. The Philippines, on the other hand, won its first victory in the second game of its first appearance in this quadrennial sport event. The sensational triumph of the Filipinas became a sport front-page/headline all over the world, an amazing achievement.

The last game of the country against Norway was a heart break. The Filipinas lost to the former world champion 6-0. The loss, however, failed to overshadow the achievements of the Filipinas in the 9th edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Many firsts were achieved by the Filipinas in the 2023 Women’s World Cup. It was the country’s first qualification. In this edition, the country scored its first goal, earned its first victory and even got its first red card. History was made and re-made several times. The Filipinas are indeed the country’s joy and pride.