The Filipinas may be out of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but their journey is just beginning.
On paper, this may not look like much. The Filipinas finished the first stage of the tournament at the bottom of Group A. Along with New Zealand, they will not be advancing to the knockouts — pretty much where many expected the Philippines to finish, being the lowest-ranked team among the four as 46th in the world.
But the numbers alone do not give justice to the whole picture. The Filipinas closed their World Cup dream as winners, in both victory and defeat.
Becoming a Filipino favorite
Football is not the biggest sport in the archipelago. Especially in Metro Manila, pitches are not the easiest to come by. But after the Philippines defeated Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinals of the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup and qualified for the Women’s World Cup, football came to the forefront of the Philippines’ consciousness.
“Philippines, you’re going to remember this team,” Sarina Bolden said after they exited the Asian Cup.
She was right. All of a sudden, football was the talk of the town and the Filipinas became a household name in the country. Everyone knew who they were and where they were headed. And more than this, they understood what an incredible feat this was, and fans followed their entire journey over the last year.
Relive the Filipinas’ qualification journey here.
The Filipinas entered the 2023 Women’s World Cup as one of eight nations making their debut in the tournament. Not only was this the first time that the Philippines entered the Women’s World Cup, but it was also the first time the country entered any football World Cup.
How could Filipinos pass up the opportunity to witness history in the flesh?
They couldn’t. Throughout the group stage, Filipinos followed the Filipinas — from Dunedin to Wellington, and from Wellington to Auckland. And it was easy to tell that they were in the stands. Every time the Philippines was on the ball, whether it was just for a few seconds or for a full play, the cheers in the stadiums would erupt.
And these do not even account for the thousands of Filipinos who were cheering them on just as loudly from the watch parties in local malls (that went viral) or from home with loved ones.
In the span of a week and a half, it was almost as if the Filipinas were all that Filipinos could talk about. On social media alone, this was already evident. The Philippine team truly did have an entire nation behind them.
Facing the best in the world
By simply looking at the scores of their three matches, it would have been easy to dismiss the Philippines’ performances. They gave up eight goals and only netted one. But anyone who watched the games in full knows the real story.
The Filipinas put up a fine fight for a squad making their debut.
Going up against Switzerland in their first World Cup match, the Filipinas lost 0-2. Because of the Filipinas’ tight defense, it took the Swiss a penalty shot late in the first to score their first goal despite dominating possession. And, with Switerzland’s 17 attempted shots (with eight on target), the Philippines could have lost by a lot more if not for their composure on defense against a team 26 ranks above them. It was a respectable effort on the Filipinas’ part, especially for their first-ever game.
Their second match of the tournament was against the co-hosts of the tournament, New Zealand. Again, the higher-ranked squad dominated possession. But once again, it was the Filipinas’ defensive structure that kept the home team at bay, breaking up many of the Kiwis’ passes on the Philippines’ side of the pitch before the ball could find the net. New Zealand took 16 shots, four on target. The Filipinas made four attempts, one on target.
But their one attempt on target by Sarina Bolden proved to be all they needed to secure a 1-0 win over a team 20 ranks higher (who were playing on home soil, no less). It was a triumphant victory for the Philippines and it hardly came by with sheer luck. The Filipinas worked incredibly hard, running up and down the pitch, stopping New Zealand’s attempts, and fighting to create chances of their own. And, New Zealand did not make it easy for them by any means.
Thus, they became the first debutants of the tournament to win a match.
Norway was their biggest challenge by a long shot. Ranked 12th in the world and in desperate need of a win, they dominated the Philippines, going for shot after shot. This resulted in a heartbreaking 0-6 loss for the Filipinas.
Despite this one-sided scoreline, the Filipinas did not give up. Even five goals down, they still continued to fight, doing their best to defend the former World Cup champions and create chances to score at least one. And even though they never found the goal they were looking for, their energy never wavered.
Knowing that the end of this World Cup run was inevitable, the Filipinas still left nothing to themselves and laid it all out on the pitch, not playing like a team accepting defeat, but rather, playing the same way they played all throughout this journey — like a team fighting for something bigger than themselves.
A lasting impact
After the Filipinas took their final bow in the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the fans in the stands — who still cheered at the top of their lungs despite trailing Norway by a large margin — gave them a huge round of applause.
In the same sentiment, on social media, many Filipinos were sharing posts about the team, congratulating them, praising them, and thanking them. Because the country knows they fought until the very end, and indeed, the Philippines have a lot to be thankful for.
The Filipinas may have changed the game.
Once upon a time, a career in football did not seem as realistic as it does today, especially for girls. But seeing this history-making group go all the way to the Women’s World Cup, and seeing many of them getting opportunities to play professionally for major clubs around the world is an example that the athletes of this country needed.
Now, young athletes in the Philippines have closer figures to look up to. Instead of Alex Morgan or Megan Rapinoe, they can look up to the 23 ladies who represented the Philippines, fighting against the best in the world. Already, you can see this in effect. Instead of seeing people walking around in Ronaldo or Messi jerseys, I now see more people in jerseys that don the names of our national players. I now know more people who are getting into football simply because of the Filipinas.
But apart from influencing future generations and Filipino sports fans, the Filipinas are also showing big players in the industry — sponsors, leagues, federations — that football in the Philippines is worth investing in.
The Philippines does not yet have a full-blown women’s professional league and not all of our national team players compete for pro clubs yet. But even so, we’ve reached the top football tournament. What more could we achieve with even more support?
The opportunities suddenly seem boundless. And that’s because they are. The potential for football to grow in the Philippines is huge, and this debut World Cup appearance may have been the spark we needed to see it. And, it isn’t just us who see it — the Filipinas have demonstrated this to the whole world.
Despite already reaching the pinnacle, it feels as though this journey has only begun.
The Filipinas may not have won the title, and they may not have won their group. But, they have won over countless Filipinos, and proven the nation’s place in the world of football. And that is an invaluable win in itself.
Banner image from FIFA Women’s World Cup on Facebook.