MANILA, Philippines -- For veteran defender Hali Long, the Philippines' 1-0 victory against Thailand in the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 was a triumph over half a decade in the making.
Long -- who celebrated her 27th birthday on match day -- has played for the Philippines in 2016, with 41 caps and 11 goals to her name entering the continental tournament. Not once has she experienced a victory against the Thais before.
That all changed on Friday night at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, India, when Chandler McDaniel's 81st minute goal powered the Filipinas past their regional rivals for the first time in 13 tries.
"It was a very surreal moment, when they blew the final whistle," Long told reporters the day after the match.
Long was superb in the win, anchoring the backline with the debuting Dominique Randle to frustrate Thailand's Miranda Nild and skipper Silawan Intamee. Nild, the prolific striker who plays for Kristianstad in Sweden, had two shots on target but was held in check for the most part.
"I've been playing (against) them since I joined in 2016," Long recalled of her history against Thailand. "In the past, when I've been on the team and played, it's always been very close."
"We even got to a point where we were ahead at some points, and we still didn't win those games. So this was huge, this was huge for Philippine football, for Philippine women's football," she added.
The result gave Alen Stajcic a winning start to his tenure as Philippines head coach, but he was happiest for his players -- particularly the long-tenured ones like Long.
"It's a special victory for the country, and creating a little bit of history is always really special. And I know that that's a big weight off the shoulders of the players who've been in this team for a long time," noted the coach.
McDaniel, the goal-scorer, didn't have to wait long to grab her first win against Thailand. Friday's match was just her third cap for the Philippines, and her first match against the Filipinas' regional rivals. She left a lasting impression, with her strike from outside the box nine minutes from time breaking past goalkeeper Waraporn Boonsing.
"This is my first time playing Thailand, but I think that we all had the same goal," said McDaniel, who now has two goals in three appearances for the Philippines. "I think that everyone on the team was really excited about this game, and we really brought it."
Also making an immediate impact was Filipina-French defender Katrina Guillou, who was influential in her debut for the Philippines. Guillou found the back of the net in the 13th minute but her goal was flagged offside. She was nevertheless a threat all throughout and helped neutralize the Thai attack.
Guillou was aware of the Philippines' history against Thailand but noted that the team was quite confident heading into the match, thanks in large part to a productive training camp in California heading into the tournament.
"We were backing ourselves and how hard we trained, leading up to this tournament," she said. "We really trust and believed in each other as a team, and kind of followed what the coaches had laid out for us leading up to this point."
"It was just great knowing that after 90-plus minutes, everything paid off for that one moment. So that's great. And then of course, making a little piece of history, it's always a good feeling," she added.
Yet as much as they relished their triumph against Thailand, the Filipinas also emphasize that they need to move on quickly.
It was their first match in the group stage of the AFC Women's Asian Cup, and one that greatly boosted their chances of making it to the knockout round. But next up for the Philippines is a date against Australia, a powerhouse squad ranked 11th in the world which features one of the game's best players in Sam Kerr.
"Definitely, last night was a great win for the country. But now, again, that game is over with," said Guillou. "We have goals within our group that we need to still accomplish, so now we're turning all our focus onto Australia."
"The best way we can do that, as of today, is just starting with proper recovery, like getting well rested, recovering from last night. And then just changing that mindset to a new team now," she added.
Long, who was part of the Philippine team that played in the AFC Women's Asian Cup in 2018, knows that the journey is just beginning for the team in their quest for a first-ever World Cup appearance.
"It was very historical for us," she said. "But it's just another stepping stone to a very progressive path we could have, if we can continue it."
The Philippines play Australia on Monday at the Mumbai Football Arena. Kick off is at 6:00 p.m., Manila time.