The Filipinas are looking to continue their momentous string of successes with a huge victory over reigning SEA Games champions, Vietnam.
This year, the fast-improving Philippine Women’s National Football Team is building up to its maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup. But first, SEA Games glory is at stake for the Filipinas, with a must-win clash against Vietnam on Tuesday.
The Vietnamese are the reigning Southeast Asian Games champions and the only other team from the region going to the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in July.
Ahead of the crunch encounter between the sides in the group stage of the SEA Games in Cambodia, Filipinas coach Alen Stajcic admitted Vietnam was the benchmark for his young team as they embark on a historic few months.
“Vietnam’s been the best team in Southeast Asia, along with Thailand, for about 20 years now, 30 years,” said the Australian. “They’re a good team, I actually love watching them play.”
The Philippines are upsetting that duopoly.
It began at the Women’s Asian Cup in early 2022, where the Filipinas made the semi-finals, losing to continental giants South Korea but earning a historic first World Cup berth in the process.
They followed that up by taking bronze at the SEA Games a year ago in Vietnam, then won the regional AFF Women’s Championship on home soil via a 4-0 semi-final win over Vietnam.
The Philippines are 49th in the FIFA rankings, the highest they have ever been.
Their rise has been driven in part by a push to recruit young players from the country’s large diaspora, nurturing classy players such as goal-threat Sarina Bolden and playmaker Quinley Quezada.
Their most recent XI — with an average age of just under 24 — was composed entirely of players born in North America.
The opening match of the Filipinas at the SEA Games ended in a 1-0 loss to Myanmar, but they beat Malaysia 1-0 on Saturday, a towering header from Bolden the last meaningful touch of the game.
“Never give up, that’s just always been my mentality. The game isn’t over until that ref blows that final whistle,” said the California-born Bolden, who top-scored at the AFF tournament with eight goals.
“I feel like this team has been through so much in the past 15 to 16 months. It doesn’t matter what time of the game it is, just that Filipino resilience, we’re never going to give up.”
Their rise is clearly a problem for Vietnam, who have taken gold at the last three SEA Games and won their opening two matches this time round, led by goalscoring legend Huynh Nhu.
The sides face each other Tuesday in the final group game in Phnom Penh and the Philippines still need to make up the points to progress.
“It’s a must-win game. We’ve beaten them once in our history — that was last year,” said Stajcic. “We can’t leave anything in the locker room, we’ve got to leave it all on the pitch.”
The Philippines will be rank outsiders at the World Cup but they are in an open-looking Group A alongside co-hosts New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland.
Banner image from AFP.