By Colin Salao
The Philippine women’s national football team has achieved something no other Philippine football team has ever done: qualify for the FIFA World Cup. To do this, they won one of the most momentous contests over Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup last January.
The Malditas, as they’re called, ranked 64th before the tournament and now have less than 18 months to prepare for a field of the best football countries in the world. But on their way there, they hope to bring home more hardware for the country in a few other tournaments.
Colin Salao: The Philippine women’s national football team had a chance to make history when it faced off against Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup on Jan. 30. With a win, the Malditas, as they’re often referred to, secured a spot in the 2023 FIFA World Cup, which would be the country’s first World Cup berth in either men’s or women’s football or what’s known in America as soccer.
According to Malditas midfielder Camille Rodriguez, the team was in a good mental state before the game.
Rodriguez: Entering the game, we knew what was at stake, we knew what we needed to do. But as crazy as it sounds, we knew also, like it was just any other game.
Salao: And that mentality was seen early on, as the 64th-ranked Malditas took an early 1-nil lead against the 39th-ranked Chinese Taipei side after a Quinley Quezada goal in the 49th minute.
-PH Goal Sound Effect-
A bit of a scramble in the box, and then it finds its way in! Philippines break the deadlock. And it’s Quinley Quezada, the number 20, scoring the first goal.
Rodriguez: Scoring the first goal, that was a crazy moment for us this year, “Ito na. Ito na.”
Salao: “Ito na” meaning “this is it” in Filipino
Rodriguez: But, you know, Chinese Taipei was able to equalize in a very, you know, you got to give to them, it was a very beautiful shot on top of the goal.
– CT Goal Sound Effect-
Late on in the game, Chinese-Taipei looking for an equalizer, and what goal that is! Zhuo Li-ping with an absolute screamer, arguably the goal of the tournament.
Salao: Here’s ABS-CBN Desk Editor Camille Naredo, who has covered the Philippine team since 2018, regarding the equalizer of her country’s opposition.
Naredo: If I were a neutral, and I’m not — if I weren’t actively cheering for them to win, I would have deemed that the goal of the tournament. Because, oh my God, from outside the box, curling into the upper left. You just have to applaud it because first of all the audacity to even take that kind of shot that late in the match. Oh my, OK. You know what you deserve, you’re going fine.
Salao: That goal was enough to keep the Philippines at bay up until the end of extra time, forcing a penalty shootout, which was unfortunate for the Malditas, who had four times more shots on target than their opponents for the game.
Rodriguez: You could tell that we were, I guess the stronger team because we were able to adapt more, or what do we just weren’t able to finish their chances.
Salao: But it only led to the most dramatic penalty shootout, especially as the Philippines went down early.
Naredo: I was on the verge of tears when Hali Long missed that second penalty. I was heartbroken for her. And I was so upset about what was going to happen because in my mind, oh my God, we are going to lose this match. But then Olivia McDaniel decided that she was going to be a superhero.
Salao: Twenty-four-year-old Olivia McDaniel is the Malditas goalkeeper, but also the team’s fifth penalty kicker. Entering the fifth and potentially final pair of penalties, the Philippines trailed 3 to 2.
Naredo: So Olivia makes her pen, saves the next penalty, which was, how do you do that? How? It was just insane to watch. For a stretch of five minutes, she saves one pen, makes one pen and then saves another. I think for a lot of a lot of fans, it was the first time they’ve ever seen that happen.
-Goal Sound Clip-
We head into the penalty shootout, both having scored three and missed two. The sixth for Chinese-Taipei would be missed by Zhuo Li-ping.
Salao: McDaniel’s save gave the Philippines’ forward Sarina Bolden the opportunity to win the game, but she had to exorcise some demons in order to do it.
Naredo: The game before against Indonesia, she missed a penalty. Against Chinese Taipei, she missed so many chances: headers that were inches wide, strikes that are like almost point-blank, but the keeper gets it.
Sarina Bolden with a chance to make history — and she does! The Philippines through to the semifinals and, with it, qualify for the World Cup for the first time in the team’s history! What a quarterfinals.
Salao: While this single game propelled the Philippines to new heights in football, their outstanding performance during the entire 2022 Asian Cup was what led them to that moment.
Naredo: The best way that it has been described was from coach Alen’s Stajcic, the head coach of the team. He said after that game against South Korea that the team made history virtually every time they stepped onto the field. And you know what he was, he was absolutely correct, because their first match against Thailand was their first win against Thailand, ever.
Salao: That was a 1-nil victory in the group stage against the 38th-ranked Thailand team.
Naredo: That match against Australia was, I think their first in a decade against Australia,
Salao: That was 4-0 loss, but to the 11th-ranked side, which they kept scoreless in the first half.
Naredo: Against Indonesia, they barely eked out a win the last time that they faced in Indonesia, but they got they got that match. They won 6-0, so also one of the biggest margins of victory for the team.
Salao: But a stark change with this year’s team was the new coaching staff, led by head coach Alen Stajcic, who used to lead the Australian women’s national soccer team and helped the Matildas achieve the country’s first World Cup knockout stage win in 2015.
Rodriguez: It helped that at the start the first three months’ gap before the Asian Cup, we sort of had like a sit-down talk with, you know, the new coaching staff. I think it helped that a lot. Or everyone on the team was on the same page in terms of what the goals were, what the roles were of everyone.
Salao: The coaching staff was extremely new as Stajcic was appointed on Oct. 26, 2021.
Rodriguez: He entered late October, we met him early November in the States already for camps, so it was all new for us. And we were all going in with certain expectations. I think if you ask any of us players on the field, we’d all agree that his level of demand is higher in terms of accountability in what you do on and off the field.
After we were interviewed individually, around, he got us in a meeting and like, in a way, you know, condensed everything that we said, and from there, we formed a sort of, like, team philosophy that really set the tone for the rest of the camp, which I think is crucial, or which I think was the crucial thing about their success in the Asian Cup.
Salao: Stajcic and the Malditas have to continue to progress quickly as the World Cup starts in July of 2023.
Rodriguez: Us knowing that we have 18 months … only 18 months left is something that everyone on the team knows. So much hard work’s going to be done, or so much hard work needs to come from us in order for us to be there and, you know, have a good showing in the World Cup. We’re going against teams that are in the Top 10 in the world, players who play year-round. And when you look at us — players who have full-time jobs as well or who are still studying — it’s going to take a lot. It’s exciting what the next 18 months is going to look like, but it’s also a challenge.
Salao: But before 2023 rolls around, Rodriguez says the team looks to make even more history on the road to the World Cup.
Rodriguez: We have never won a medal as a Philippine women’s national team. Hopefully this year, that’s the next goal. I mean, the only time we won a bronze medal was in the SEA Games, but it’s only because there were three teams, that was back in like 1980s. So there were three teams and you’re the last, automatic you get a medal. So, to earn it in recent times, wala pa.
Salao: “Wala pa” meaning “none yet.”
The Philippine women’s football team will have their sights set on bringing home some hardware in the South East Asian Games in May, the ASEAN Football Federation Championships in July and the Asian Games in September. For Medill Reports, this is Colin Salao.
Colin Salao is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @colinsalao.