MANILA, Philippines -- The year 2022 has seen the Philippine women's national football team win virtually everywhere they go -- from India to Australia, to Vietnam and even Europe.
But there is something special in winning on home soil, in front of local fans -- and that's exactly what the Filipinas did on Monday night in their first game of the 2022 AFF Women's Championship.
Matched up against a young Australian team that are still considered favorites for the competition, the Filipinas held firm in the first half before finding their breakthrough goal in the 60th minute, courtesy of a header by Sarina Bolden.
It was a special moment for the Japan-based striker, who reached 10 goals in 20 appearances for the Philippines during the rain-soaked match at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
"It's really great to see how far we've come," Bolden told reporters after the Filipinas completed the 1-0 triumph to open their campaign in Group A.
"The last time we were here, it was SEA Games 2019, and we lost the third place match," she recalled. "It's just really special, to see the growth, how far this team has come."
The Rizal Memorial contained some painful memories for the PWNFT, as their last game there was the bronze medal match of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. On the brink of beating Myanmar after going up 1-0 in the 57th minute, the Filipinas instead surrendered two goals in the span of three minutes to lose in heartbreaking fashion.
"Last time I'm here, [we were] losing," said Bolden, who was part of the 2019 SEA Games team. "[I'm] remembering how heartbreaking that feeling was."
"But now, starting a tournament and winning, it means so much," she said.
The Filipinas have certainly come far since that defeat. Early this year, they made the semifinals of the AFC Women's Asian Cup in India to seal their spot to the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup. They got their revenge against Myanmar during the SEA Games in Hanoi, making a second half comeback to win bronze.
They have also won friendly matches in Australia and Europe as part of their preparation for the various tournaments that they are joining this year.
For Bolden, Monday night's triumph against Australia should just be the start as they continue to look at the bigger picture.
"For me, and I can speak for the other girls too, we just want to continue to grow and get better, 'cause we have the World Cup coming up," she said. "We want to go as far as we can in this AFF tournament to help better ourselves for the World Cup."
"We want to continue to keep winning, and growing and becoming a better team than the last time that we played," she added.
Bolden and the rest of the Filipinas will try to make it two wins in a row on Wednesday night when they play Singapore, still at the Rizal Memorial.