MANILA, Philippines -- For the first time since 2019, the Philippine women's national football team got to experience playing in front of their home fans -- and the Filipinos at the Rizal Memorial Stadium did not let them down.
Led by the Ultras Filipinas, the fans kept up the energy from the first whistle up to the final, their cheers reaching a crescendo when Sarina Bolden scored in the 60th minute against Australia.
The crowd of 1,405 fans gave the Filipinas a much-deserved ovation at the final whistle, as they held on for a 1-0 triumph against the Matildas to open their campaign in the 2022 AFF Women's Championship.
"It's great playing in front of the home fans," Philippines coach Alen Stajcic said after the game. "They were so loud; the noise that came through when the final whistle went was amazing."
For the Filipinas, this match against Australia was their first on home soil since the bronze medal match in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, which they lost in devastating fashion to Myanmar. Since then, they have traveled and competed all over the world.
Most significantly, they reached the semifinals of the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 in India in February, in the process punching their ticket to the FIFA Women's World Cup next year. In May, they exacted revenge against Myanmar to win the bronze in the 31st SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam.
But playing in front of their fellow Filipinos gave the PWNFT a different kind of energy as they out-played a bigger, more physical Australian team that were prohibitive favorites to win the tournament.
"I thank all the fans that came out, they were truly amazing," said Stajcic.
However, the coach is hoping that there will be even more support for the Filipinas as the tournament progresses. During Monday night's match, there were still plenty of empty spots at the bleachers of the Rizal Memorial, and Stajcic says his players deserve to be watched by a packed crowd.
"I think this team really deserves a sell-out. We've got four games left in the group and the semis and finals to come, you know, if we make it that far. So, this team really deserves a sell-out," he said.
"We need to do everything we can to pack this stadium and give these players the love they deserve," he added.
Tickets to the AFF Women's Championship are on sale at all SM Ticket outlets nationwide and online via SMTickets.com.
The Filipinas will be back in action on Wednesday against Singapore, with kick-off scheduled at 7:00 p.m.