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2022: The year of the 'Filipinas'

From their gradual resurgence last decade, the Filipinas have become "queens" in 2022. PFF (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

IT was Jan. 31, 2022.

Football fans were still wondering why the Philippine women's football team shed the "Malditas" moniker and has simply become the "Filipinas" from thereon.

Sarina Bolden was in the penalty area looking to beat Taiwanese goalkeeper Cheng Ssu-Yu.

Cheng could have possibly been aware that Bolden, the Filipinas' main gunner, missed a penalty earlier in the FIFA Women's Asian Cup, and disrupting her again would give Chinese Taipei a huge chance at winning their quarterfinal battle.

Bolden, however, made sure she would never be denied, striking a powerful shot to the left side that Cheng could not tap away.

Bolden's teammates mobbed her in jubilation not just because they not just finally beat their Taiwanese counterparts after conceding a late goal in regulation that sent the match to extra time and eventually the penalty shootout but also earned themselves a place in next year's FIFA Women's World Cup.

"To qualify for a World Cup for the first time in the history of the country is truly amazing," Coach Alen Stajcic said in a yearend recap set to be shown on Saturday, but a transcription of which was shared to the media the day earlier.

It was no doubt that them making the FIFA WWC is the top sports story for 2022, but it also turned out to be the start of brighter things ahead for the Filipinas.

Four months later, the Filipinas traveled to Hanoi and battled their way to the Southeast Asian Games bronze, the first time the Philippine women's football team made the podium since 1985.

Many fans and pundits alike, however, preferred this bronze more because the Filipinas ground more for the medal than in the previous edition where the national team was already assured of a medal preseason due to having only three participating teams then.

"The bronze medal at the SEA Games was amazing," Stajcic described the feeling then.

And then, the ultimate prize.

The Filipinas utilized their home-field advantage at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila and ruled the AFF Women's Championship, another first for the Philippines' national football team program.

The Filipinas finally solved the puzzle that is Vietnam in the semifinals and bludgeoned Thailand in the gold medal match to the delight of more than 8,000 fans at the said pitch.

"Winning the tournament at home for the first time, the AFF, was really really remarkable and humbling. To have that in front of our home crowd is really special," Stajcic said on the said achievement.

As an added bonus, the Filipinas set up friendlies against fellow FIFA WWC-bound squads that gave them a gauge on how to further build up for the said event at the "lands down under", Australia and New Zealand.

"The first trip to Europe, winning in Europe. The first trip to Central America, getting a point in Central America. The first trip to South America, getting a point in South America. Learning how to travel, learning how to travel across time zones, and getting your body right in preparation for matches are so many things that we achieved, so many things that we did, different footballing countries, and different pedigrees," Stajcic further said.

Capping the year, however, were back-to-back blowouts against Papua New Guinea, a team four spots above the Filipinas in the FIFA rankings, which could possibly assure them of making the Top 50 by the next update.

According to Stajcic, he saw a glimpse of what the fans can expect from the Filipinas in the FIFA WWC during those statement wins.

"I think we saw a little bit of that against Papua New Guinea, being able to be more composed on the ball to be able to execute the things that we want to happen," Stajcic further said.

In total, the Filipinas played 30 matches in 2022, winning 18 of those.

"The 12 months, 30 A internationals, for us to win 18 of those is an incredible stat for the group. It's been an incredible ride and one that I’ve enjoyed," Stajcic continued.

Summarizing the year that was for the Filipinas, Stajcic simply said. "It’s been a remarkable year."

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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