MANILA (UPDATED) - The Philippine women's national football team put together a smashing performance to stun Vietnam, 4-0, in the semifinal of the 2022 AFF Women's Championship on Friday night.
In front of a packed crowd at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, the Filipinas recorded another milestone by dethroning the reigning champions and advancing to the final of the tournament for the first time ever.
There, they will play Thailand, which beat Myanmar in the other semifinal earlier in the day. But regardless of the result of Sunday's final, it will already be a historic campaign for the Filipinas who will make their first ever appearance in the podium of the AFF tilt.
Veteran defender Hali Long opened the scoring for the Filipinas in the 32nd minute, and three more goals followed in the second half. Two were headers from Sarina Bolden, who now has seven goals in the tournament to become the front-runner for the Golden Boot.
On the other end, Olivia McDaniel was steady in goal as the Filipinas recorded a fourth clean sheet in the tournament. It highlighted a superb performance for the whole team as they outclassed a Vietnam side that is ranked 32nd in the world, and is coming off a gold medal campaign in the 31st Southeast Asian Games.
Both teams made history earlier this year in the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 by qualifying to next year's FIFA Women's World Cup in New Zealand and Australia.
"It's a special moment, and a historic moment -- to beat Vietnam, and to make the first Finals appearance," said coach Alen Stajcic, who steered the Filipinas to the final of a competition for the first time in the team's history.
"We've been in two semifinals this year -- in the Asian Cup, and in the SEA Games, [we won] a bronze medal. Tonight, we showed that we matured and evolved, and beat a really top-class team," he added.
MILESTONE FOR LONG
Stajcic acknowledged ahead of the match that they were underdogs, given the "brutal" schedule they had in the group round while Vietnam had a less grueling path to the knockout phase. Vietnam had also beaten the Filipinas, 2-1, when they played in the SEA Games earlier this year.
Before Friday night's match, Vietnam had won its first four games in the AFF tilt and did not concede a single goal in the group stage.
But the Filipinas imposed their will early in the match, dominating possession and showing good build-up play. Isabella Flanigan won a corner in the 31st second, and it led to the breakthrough goal as Long converted a header off a superb delivery from team captain Tahnai Annis.
It was a special moment for Long, as the veteran defender was making her 60th appearance for flag and country. This was also her 15th goal for the Philippines since making her debut in 2016.
Vietnam played with more urgency after giving up the opener, but the defending champions lacked fluency in their build-up and could not create any clear-cut chances. Their veteran forward, Huỳnh Như, entered the match with five goals to her name but was held in check by the Filipinas all throughout.
The Filipinas could have added to their tally in the first half, but attempts by Bolden were off target and Vietnam entered the break down by just a goal.
But the floodgates would soon open for the hosts. Vietnam was called for a handball inside the box in the 51st minute, and Annis calmly slotted in the penalty to make it 2-0. Bolden won a corner in the 61st and proceeded to head in Annis' cross to give the Filipinas a 3-0 lead, sending the crowd at Rizal Memorial to a frenzy.
Six minutes later, McDaniel was tested by Vietnam's defense but she comfortably dealt with an attempt -- one of just six shots for the Vietnamese team throughout the match. In the 70th, Bolden wrapped up the victory as her glancing header off a cross by Quinley Quezada looped over Vietnam's Tran Thi Kim Thanh.
Vietnam had some chances in the final 10 minutes but their attack failed to trouble McDaniel. The defending SEA Games gold medalists, who were coming off just one day's rest, registered just two shots on target throughout the whole match, as the Filipinas effectively nullified their offense.
The Filipinas, in contrast, showed their urgency and managed 14 shots -- a stunning 9 of which were on target.
"It shows we've come a long way," Stajcic said of their performance. "But I'm greedy, and I'm hungry for more. I know this is another stepping stone for this team."
The Filipinas will be back in action on Sunday as they face Thailand for the gold medal. Thailand defeated them, 1-0, in the group stage just last Tuesday.