AFC Women’s Asian Cup: Making and still seeking more history, PH books last 8 seat

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 28 2022 12:18 AM | Updated as of Jan 28 2022 04:24 AM

Making history has been a theme for the Philippine women's national football team at the currently running AFC Women's Asian Cup. 

Now, head coach Alen Stajcic and his crew have their eyes on an even bigger breakthrough win this weekend. 

The Philippines put on a scoring clinic in their final group-stage game on Thursday, bludgeoning Indonesia 6-0 to advance to the knockout phase and continue their fantastic campaign in India. 

Captain Tahnai Annis led the way with a brace and Katrina Guillou, Sarina Bolden, Jessica Miclat and Malea Louise Cesar added a goal each at Shri Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune for the Filipinas' 2nd win in 3 matches, good for 2nd place in Group B and a spot in the quarterfinals.

They next face Chinese-Taipei on Sunday; a win by Stajcic, Annis and co. would send the Philippines to the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, the country's first appearance there, if ever.

"The team just keeps raising the bar. Every time we do something new, and create a bit of history, it's a new ceiling for the team and the country," said Stajcic, an Australian coach who called the shots for his native country's women's team in several high-profile competitions, including 2 World Cups and an Olympics.

"I'm really happy for the team, and I know everyone back home in the Philippines will be really happy and proud of the team as well."

The Filipinas set the tone in India with a first-ever win against Thailand to open the tournament, before losing 4-0 to Australia. 

The Philippines hadn't won 2 matches in a single Women's Asian Cup in 9 previous iterations of the competition.

In the 2018 edition, they won once — versus Jordan — to secure third place in Group A and a playoff against South Korea for a spot in the 2019 Women's World Cup. The Filipinas lost 5-0. 

In 8 of the previous Women's Asian Cups, the Philippines ended up winless 5 times (2001, 1997, 1995, 1993 and their tournament debut in 1981), and settled for a solitary win thrice (versus Guam in 2003, Nepal in 1999 as hosts, and Hong Kong in 1983).

This team in India has shown they're built differently. 

-- Philippines 'staying in the moment --

"We're just so grateful for the opportunity to be here again," Annis said.

"And you know, we came here to compete, and we came to win, and we came to you know, progress from how we did 4 years ago, and I think we've really shown a lot of people, and shown ourselves what we're capable of."

Against Indonesia, defender Guillou drew first blood in the 6th minute, her first goal for the Philippines, before forward Bolden headed it in off a cross by midfielder Miclat. 

After the break, that’s when Annis and her teammates opened the floodgates. 

Annis scored her 3rd international goal with a strike from outside the box in the 56th, then the Filipinas made it 4-0 thanks to Miclat, who converted the penalty in the 72nd after Indonesia was called for a handball. 

Annis added another from long-distance in the 82nd , before midfielder Cesar completed the rout with an injury-time strike.

All in all, the Filipinas had 31 shots with 12 of them on target. They also enjoyed 61 percent of possession against the overmatched Timnas.

Amid the buzz surrounding their success, Annis said the team wouldn't let themselves be overwhelmed by the results.

"I think what we're trying to do is stay present, in the moment, and embrace all of the good things that are happening because of the hard work that we put in and preparations," she said.

Stajcic said he expected Sunday's match versus Chinese-Taipei to be about which side manages the pressure more.

"The team that handles the nerves better would probably start the better, but that doesn't mean you finish the better," he said. 

"And you know, I think it's gonna be a really even game."

-- Aussies, Japan, China top groups --

Meanwhile, Australia defeated Thailand 2-1 to secure top spot in Group B and set up a quarterfinal clash with South Korea.

The Matildas finished the group stage with 9 points, ahead of the Philippines.

Despite the defeat, Thailand advanced on account of finishing among the best 3rd-placed teams alongside Vietnam.

Thailand will face 2-time defending champions Japan, who clinched the top spot in Group C on goal difference despite being held to a 1-1 draw by 2nd-placed South Korea.

Vietnam, who came from behind twice to hold Myanmar to a 2-2 draw in Navi Mumbai, will take on Group A winners China in the last 8.

Group A ended with only three teams with hosts India thrown out of the tournament after a COVID-19 outbreak meant they were unable to field a team for their match against Taiwan. — With a report by Reuters