Tears, cheers for epic feat

Olmin Leyba - The Philippine Star

WELLINGTON – Even with their firm belief that they can do it, the Filipinas can’t help but be awed with their fairy tale-like arrival on the global stage.

Coming from football minnows Philippines, the Pinay booters vigorously worked their way up from obscurity to prominence, lacing it with a historic 1-0 win over New Zealand in the FIFA Women’s World Cup yesterday.

“I can’t believe actually what we’ve achieved,” said Sara Eggesvik, who played a key role in the milestone by setting up Sarina Bolden for the winning goal.

“I’m proud of this team. We keep making history and this team is something special,” she added.

The victory witnessed by a massive crowd of 32,357 at the Wellington Regional Stadium also put the Filipinas in the running for the two slots to the next round in Group A.

And it’s pretty impressive for a team that not long ago struggled to find traction even against lightweight opponents in the region.

“This team was ranked in the 60s, 70s, before and struggled to beat Nepal and Hong Kong in the (Asian Cup qualifiers) playoff,” said coach Alen Stajcic.

“From needing last-minute winners and coming from behind to get past Nepal and Hong Kong just to get to the Asian Cup to now beating New Zealand in the World Cup is just staggering, miraculous, unbelievable. What the players have done is just mind-boggling right now,” he added.

Stajcic’s gritty charges have been on an amazing climb over the past 18 months. They gave a preview of good things to come by earning a ticket to a dream stint in the WC following a breakout semifinal performance in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in India in early 2022.

This they followed with a breakthrough title run in the Asean Championship a few months later, claiming the feat in front of a loud 8,000 home crowd at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Prior to their WC debut, the Filipinas attained their highest place in the FIFA World Rankings at 46th.

“What a journey it has been with the Filipinas,” said Eggesvik, her voice cracking and tears falling.

“We had to prepare ourselves for the World Cup playing against really good teams in training camps (across different continents), lost a lot of games, but we still make the effort and keeep fighting.”

In five days, the Filipinas (three points) will return to battle against higher-ranked Norway (one point) over in Auckland.

More history awaits if they claim the scalp of the Norwegians and the result of the other match between group leader Switzerland (four points) and the Kiwis (three points) go in their favor and send them through.

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