A TEAM already on the cusp of history will attempt to add to its lore when the Philippines battles Norway on Sunday in a football match where a win by the Filipinas will move the country into the knockout stage, a feat deemed unlikely when the tournament began.
The Philippine Women’s Football Team, already billed as the surprise of the tournament, especially after it broke the hearts of millions in New Zealand, the tournament host, 1-0, in what is thus far one of the biggest upsets in the Women’s World Cup, the team is now gearing to continue its Cinderella run against the Norwegians, the 1995 winners of the World Cup.
If the New Zealanders had a few weakness and flaws to exploit, that is hardly be the case with Norway, always a World Cup title contender, one of Europe’s best, and a team with a lineup that includes a Women’s Ballon d’Or winner and a UEFA Champions League All-Time top scorer.
But Norway’s loss to New Zealand in the opener has given hope that the Filipinas may exploit some disarray in the Norwegians now battling for survival in what has been billed a do-or-die match. A loss means Norway is eliminated and the Philippines advances to the round-of-16 knockout stage. For the Philippines, getting into the World Cup itself was an astounding feat, winning over New Zealand, a shocker, but beating Norway is like conquering Mount Everest without oxygen gear.
The World Cup, unlike any other international contest, is perhaps as big as or bigger than the Olympics. It is the gold standard in football, the biggest and most popular sport in the world.
While a win for the Filipinas will shake the tournament in its foundations, a loss will not be as cataclysmic. The Filipinas have already set a record in the country’s football history. Any win after that is welcome bounty from the heavens. But, certainly, there’s nothing wrong with aiming for the moon.
But, here’s cause for pause.
Behind this mind-bending run for history is a squad fashioned not from any robust development program of the Philippine Football Federation. It is fashioned from a pricey recruitment program that sent scouts to various capitals around the world, especially in the United States, in search of hybrid Filipinos for the national team.
The tactic is not unique. The Philippine Basketball Association, and many other local sports associations, have been doing it for years, although without the same success as the women’s football team and, we might add, perhaps at a much lower cost. The FIBA World Cup basketball will soon be upon us and the Philippines is in it, not even because it qualified but because it is hosting the event.
Mind you, the coming FIBA World Cup in the Philippines does not come cheap. The national government is giving organizers P1 billion (that’s 1 million multiplied by 1,000). And that’s only the government contribution. Think of how much the country’s top corporations—such as San Miguel and Smart, whose president Manny Pangilinan is all out on this one—are contributing to an endeavor which will put the country in the global sports map for a few weeks and then nothing.
But, back to the women’s football team: the magical run of the Filipinas has placed the Philippine Football Federation on the threshold of an uncommon situation where it can generate unbelievable interest from local young girls and boys to take up the sport. From this, a base and a grassroots program for the future, if run right, can actually develop.
But the actual fact is that local football’s base and grassroots are out there, abroad, particularly in the U.S., where, with the success of the team, more and more foreign-based, half-Filipinos are likely to persevere to get the attention of recruiters.
It is safe to say that the PFF will not have the resources to compete with the football program as currently designed abroad, especially in America where the sport is introduced at the grade-school level.
But the opportunity is there. The PFF just has to be more aggressive, more focused, more determined to bring the game to our youth—or bring our youth to the game, whatever it takes!
We cannot go on forever rooting for a team that has, among 23 players in its lineup, 18 foreign-born players and only five locally bred ones. Was it even a surprise that, when the Filipinas won, there was more joy forthcoming from communities in the U.S. than from here?
For now, we can give football a free kick, but think of how much more exultation it would have meant for all of us if those surnames bore more local flavor and local color than the current roster.
Anyway, here’s to more triumphs! Go girls, beat Norway!