IT may not be a football-crazy country, but the Philippines certainly has its own proud moments when talk centers about the so-called "Beautiful Game."
The latest addition to the bucket list was made early Monday morning of January 31, 2022 when the women’s national team advanced to the FIFA World Cup for the first time ever following its dramatic 4-3 win over favored Chinese Taipei via penalty shootout in the quarterfinals of the AFC Asian Cup.
Sarina Bolden delivered the winning goal, while keeper Olivia McDaniel brought the team back from the dead after trailing 3-2, by making two crucial saves and scoring a goal of her own to complete the come-from-behind win and give the country a ticket to football’s biggest stage in 2023 to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
The feat is certainly a breakthrough in Philippine football history as the country hadn’t sent any team – men or women – in the World Cup until this gutsy bunch of coach Alen Stajcic came through and answered the call.
Before it though, there were other feel-good stories too, that somehow helped elevate local football to another level. SPIN.ph recalls some of them below.
Top moments in PH football
1. MIRACLE OF HANOI
It was widely regarded as the one that signaled the renaissance of Philippine football when the Azkals stunned regional power and defending champion Vietnam, 2-0, in the group stage of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup in Hanoi. Playing before a hostile crowd of 40,000 at the My Dinh National Stadium, the lowly-ranked Filipinos, seeing action in the group stage for the first time, played with great poise in their opening match and didn’t back down against an opponent they haven’t beaten in five previous matches and only drew twice. Chris Greatwich opened the scoring for the Azkals in the 38th minute, before Phil Younghusband secured the all-important win with another goal at the 79th mark to complete the upset that became known as the "Miracle of Hanoi." Coach Simon McMenemy and the Azkals finished second in their group and secured a place in the semifinals against Indonesia. But they lost twice at home against the host, and failed to advance in the final. Nonetheless, it was feat that brought back football in the limelight of Philippine sports.
2. WOMEN’S TEAM WINS BRONZE IN 1985 SEA GAMES IN BANGKOK
Believe it or not, Philippine football once won a medal in the Southeast Asian Games courtesy of the women’s team during the 1985 edition of the biennial meet in Bangkok. Women’s football was making its SEA Games debut back then and only three teams participated, namely Thailand, Philippines, and Singapore. The Filipina booters that had former Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Cristy Ramos in the roster, lost both their games by shutout behind an average of three goals, thus relegating them to a bronze medal finish. To this day, it remains as the only podium finish by either the men or women’s football team in the SEA Games.
3. AZKALS BEAT MALAYSIA, CLINCH BEST FINISH IN SEA GAMES
The feat happened long before the men’s football team came to be known by its moniker today. Behind the team coached by Eckhard Krautzun and Rolando Plagata, and had the likes of Elmer Bedia, Nonoy Carpio, Marlon Maro, Norman Fegidero, Judy Saluria, among others, the Filipinos held their own against a tough Group B roster that also included Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam during the 1991 Manila SEA Games. They went out and drew against the Vietnamese, 2-2, in the opener of a game they could have won had the visitor not equalized at the 84th minute. But it was the match against Malaysia which would really rocked the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium to its very foundation. Fegidero proved to be the man of the hour for the Filipinos when sent the ball to the back of the net off a perfect cross from Bedia in the final 15 minutes to beat their shocked rival, 1-0. Bedlam erupted following the victory, the noise brought about by the celebration reverberating as far as the Harrison Plaza Complex and the Sheraton Hotel (now Century Park Hotel) just across the street. The team came close to beating Indonesia, 2-1, in its final game in the group stage, but the win over the Malaysians was enough to send the host to the semifinals, where it lost against Thailand, 6-2. Relegated in the battle for the bronze, the Filipinos just couldn’t buy a goal against Singapore and lost, 2-nil. Still, the semifinals stint was the best ever achieved by a Philippine men’s football team in the history of the SEA Games.
4. AZKALS QUALIFY IN AFC ASIAN CUP FOR THE FIRST TIME
In yet another historic moment, the Azkals qualified in the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in history when they beat Taijikistan, 2-1, before a boisterous crowd of around 5,000 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in 2018. The visitor had the host on the ropes when Nazarov Akhtam scored the first goal at the 64th minute as Kevin Ingreso gave a penalty after a tackle against Taijikistan skipper Davronov Nuriddin. But the Filipino was quick to atone for the blunder when he levelled the score at 1-1 behind a header off a cross by Iain Ramsey. Adding drama to the victory was Phil Younghusband’s winning goal at the 91st minute on a penalty kick. It was the 50th international goal for the Azkals’ team captain that secured the Philippines’ place in the Asian Cup.
5. PRE-WAR MEN’S FOOTBALL TEAM FEATURES PAULINO ALCANTARA
The early Philippine men’s football team competed in the Far Eastern Championship Games, with the legendary Paulino Alcantara suiting for the squad during the 1917 edition of the biennial showcase held in Tokyo, Japan. The Concepcion, Iloilo native, who was already seeing action for Barcelona as the first Filipino and Asian to play for a European club by that time, helped the country score a 15-2 rout of the host in what had easily been considered until now as the largest winning margin by a Philippine team in international competitions. The country however, lost the title against China. During his stay in the Philippines while studying medicine, he hooked up with local team Bohemian Sporting Cup, which he steered to back-to-back Philippine Championships in 1917 and 1918. Upon his return to FC Barcelona, Alcantara began to carve out his fabled career, one which saw him score a then club record of 395 goals in 399 matches that was only broken in 2014 by Lionel Messi. Considered as one of FC Barcelona’s legends, a yearly tournament called Copa Paulino Alcantara (PFL Cup) is being played in the country held in his honor. Just last year, he was named into the Philippine Sports Hall of Fame by the Philippine Sports Commission.