There was a time when association football, or soccer, was not perceived to be a sport that Filipinos could have a strong competitive standing internationally. Then in the 2010s everything changed. The men’s national football team was bolstered by memorably skilled players and performed surprisingly well in tournaments. Thus was the legend of the “Azkals” born, and suddenly Filipinos were talking about the country getting into the FIFA World Cup. That has not happened yet. Meanwhile, the Azkal success spurred the development of the women’s national team, nicknamed the “Malditas.” Despite trials and lesser exposure, this squad persevered in all international competitions they participated in.

And now, according to The Manila Times, those efforts have finally borne fruit. The Philippine Women’s National Football Team “Malditas” advanced to the semifinals for the Women’s Asian Cup and in doing so secured for itself a slot in the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup. This came about January 31 at Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, India, when the Malditas won their Women’s Asian Cup quarterfinal match against Chinese Taipei, triumphing 4-3 by shootout following a 1-1 game. It is the greatest feat of the PH women’s soccer team, currently ranked at World number 64.

The Malditas delivered their goal at minute 49 of the match courtesy of Quinley Quindoza with Katrina Gillou assisting. But on minute 82 the World number 39 Chinese Taipei team equalized with a shot from Zhuo Li-Ping. When no further goals were forthcoming for the rest of regulation plus 30-minute overtime, the game went to penalty kicks, where Malditas goalie Olivia McDaniel was instrumental to foiling key kickers from the other squad. She even got her own strike in, evening the shootout score at 3-3 to keep the dream alive following a Chinese Taipei lead. Sarina Bolden would score the 4-3 kick and set the Philippines to the World Cup.

PWNFT head coach Alen Stajcic called the win an unbelievable achievement. “The group is really proud of each other,” he says. “But we are more proud that we can inspire the next generation of players.” The Malditas’ journey through the Women’s Asian Cup was a series of ups and downs, beating Thailand in their first game (1-0), then losing to Australia (0-4) and getting to the quarterfinals over Indonesia (6-0). They must face South Korea in the semifinals but they are now sure to go to Australia-New Zealand for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Image from Philippine Star