By Artchil B. Fernandez

In 2010 Philippine football history was rewritten when the “Miracle of Hanoi” happened where the men’s national football team entered the semi-finals of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup for the first time. Now it is the turn of herstory to be rewritten.

The Malditas now re-branded Filipinas is the name of the Philippine women’s national football team.  This week they have proven once again that when it comes to sports, it is the women rather than the men who make historic breakthroughs.

Philippines’ first ever Olympic gold was won by Hidilyn Diaz. Ironically, she earned the much coveted and long-awaited gold medal for the country in a sport perceived as manly, weightlifting.

Now, the Filipinas have made their own mark in football not only in the Philippines but in the whole Southeast Asian region. This week they were crowned as the new football queens in the Asean by becoming the champions in the 2022 Asean Football Federation (AFF) women’s tournament. Along the way, they also made historic football breakthroughs which Philippine football had never seen before.

Filipinas or the Malditas shook the football community last January not only in Asia but in the world by qualifying in the 2023 Women’s Football World Cup jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand. It is the 9th edition of the global tournament.

Playing in the World Cup, the highest level of competition in the most popular sport in the world is the dream and goal of every nation. Prior to the qualification of the Malditas aka Filipinas, no Philippine football team, men or women, or even in the youth level, had made it to the biggest stage of football competition.  It is a huge feat for the Filipinas to qualify for the first time in the World Cup ahead of the men’s national team who are always the focus of attention both of the football community and the media.

Qualification in 2023 Women’s World Cup of the Malditas came through their participation in the 2022 Asian Football Federation (AFC) Women’s Asian Cup. In the quarter finals of the tournament, they outlasted Chinese Taipei by beating them on penalties, 4-3. That victory brought them to the semi-finals of the AFC Women’s tournament for the first time and also booked them a ticket to the World Cup, the highest achievement of a Philippine football team.

That was not the end of the herstory-making of the Malditas. In the 2021 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games held only in May this year in Vietnam due to Covid-19 pandemic, the Filipinas served notice to the regional powerhouses that they are a force to reckon with. They defeated Burma (Myanmar) 2-1 in the semi-finals and won for the first time the bronze.  It was their best finish in the tournament in 37 years.

But the best is yet to come.

This year, the Philippines hosted the 2022 AFF Women’s Championship. In the group stage, the Malditas were bracketed with three-time champion Thailand and formidable Australia (a former champion) alongside Indonesia and Singapore. Given the composition of the group, the Filipinas were considered by sports pundits and regional fans alike as non-contender for the crown.

But to the surprise of everyone, the Malditas defeated the Matildas in the opening match, 1-0. Their clinical demolition of Singapore in the next game, 7-0 left everyone shocked and awed. The Filipinas also demonstrated their dominance in the group by dispatching Malaysia 4-0 and followed it up with a sweeping win over Indonesia 4-1. Their momentum however was halted in their last game against Thailand where the Thais won 1-0. Nevertheless, the Philippines also made it to the semi-finals for the second time as the second-best team in the group.

In the semi-finals, the Philippines faced Vietnam. It was a do-or-die situation for both teams in the knock-out stage. Only one team advances to the finals. Vietnam is not only the reigning champion but has been crowned champion four times and is gunning for a fifth title.

But to the astonishment of Vietnam and other regional powerhouses, the Philippines proved to be a difficult nut to crack. The Filipinas showcased their class and grit with a convincing and emphatic victory over Vietnam 4-0, dethroning the reigning champions and eliminating them from the final match. That win of the Malditas set them up for a re-match with Thailand who also made it to the finals.

The final match between the Philippines and Thailand is historic for the Filipinas who are playing for championship the first time. As an added pressure, they were playing before a home crowd that swelled to 8,257. In the 9th minute the Malditas displayed their fire power by scoring a goal and followed it with another goal in the 19th minute. First half-ended 2-0 in favor of the host.

Thailand tried to recover in the second half but was no match to the Malditas who dominated the game. In the 88th minute, the Filipinas sealed the fate of Thailand with another goal. Game ended with a clear, unequivocal, and clean demolition of the three-time champion, 3-0. The Philippines for the first time is an AFF Women’s Champion.

Malditas continue to write herstory by undisputedly snatching the crown of the 2022 AFF Women’s Championship from the former title holders. Their victory shows their qualification in the 2023 Women’s World Cup is no fluke. They also remind the nation that football is where the future of Philippine team sport lies with women leading the way. This is just the beginning for in the 2023 World Cup the Filipinas will continue to write their story.

Meanwhile over at Gilas Pilipinas… but that is another story.