Filipinas’ magical AFF ride ends in place in history with the country’s first-ever title
The Philippine lady footballers known as the Filipinas got the big audience they have been hoping for since the start of the AFF Women’s Championship.
They promptly repaid that love on Sunday with a magical performance never to be forgotten, something which will stay in everyone’s mind and will leave an indelible mark in the record books.
Boosted by a pair of goals inside the first 20 minutes, the Philippines captured the regional championship for the first time in a long participation as a 3-0 blanking of Thailand ignited a celebration in the stands no local fan has ever experienced before and turned the Rizal Memorial Stadium into a madhouse way before the final whistle was blown.
Jessika Cowart’s header off a set piece and Katrina Guillou’s goal from close range jolted the crowd of 8,257—a record to cap off two weeks of international women’s football.
Sarina Bolden, the tournament’s topscorer with eight goals, added a third which was the cherry on the sundae as chants of “Ole! Ole! Ole!” and “Campeones!” reverberated throughout the fabled sports complex.
The crowd later flashed their cellphone lights, creating a unique atmosphere to mark the moment that once again allowed the Filipinas, who earlier in the year qualified for the World Cup and took home the bronze medal in the Southeast Asian Games, to once again make history.
Make that “Herstory.”
It was a sweet win for coach Alen Stajcic’s side, which saw its hopes of ruling the tournament put in doubt when Thailand sneaked in a 1-0 win at the close of the group stage only because of a key defensive blunder by the home side.
But known to defy the odds ever since securing a World Cup berth at the start of the year, the Filipinas would oust defending champion Vietnam in the semifinals, 4-0, before completing their dominant payback over the Thai squad known as the Chaba Kaew.
And there seems to be no limit for this group of women which has captured the imagination of local football and sports fans.
Tickets were on high demand ever since the semifinal triumph, and it showed before kickoff when the grandstand and three-fourths of the bleachers were filled, something that was not seen since their men’s counterpart, the Azkals, enjoyed the same shortly after the “Miracle in Hanoi” back in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.
The championship, however, will create higher expectations as the Filipinas continue to prepare for next year’s Fifa showcase which Australia and New Zealand are hosting.
Thailand settled for a second straight runner-up finish as its bid to regain back the crown slipped away early.
The Filipinas took advantage of getting the first corner and Cowart delivered a header seven minutes after the referee blew her whistle for the first time, igniting a roar of jubilation from their mostly red-clad supporters.
Guillou doubled the lead in the 19th when she slipped past Thailand goalkeeper Chotmanee Thongmongkol from close range.
Bolden, perhaps establishing herself as the team’s talisman and arguably the fan favorite, completed another magical night at Rizal Memorial with an 88th minute header off a corner.