MANILA, Philippines – Following an extraordinary semifinal shutout of defending champion Vietnam, the Philippine women’s football team aims to push its historic and meteoric rise to greater heights.
The Filipinas target their first ever crown in the AFF Women’s Championship on Sunday, July 17 at 7:30 pm at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
But standing between them and the coveted crown is four-time competition champion Thailand.
“We’ll do what we have done all week, and for the last six to seven months… the girls have shown what a professional team they are and what professional mentality they have,” said Philippine head coach Alen Stajcic.
“Certainly we’re gonna need every last bit of oxygen and energy and fuel they’ve got ‘cause [playing] seven games in such a short space of time, it’s torturous.”
Stajcic has been voicing out this concern since the tournament started, but he has intelligently tweaked his starting lineup every single game to counter the fixture congestion.
His ability to rest and rotate his players without experiencing a massive drop in quality has been superb, and the Final Four performance of veteran midfielder Tahnai Annis and talisman Sarina Bolden is a testament to that brilliance.
Both players were substitutes in the final group stage clash against Thailand last July 12, but started in the Vietnam semifinal to propel the Philippines to its maiden tournament championship appearance.
Team captain Annis had two assists and coolly converted a penalty, while Bolden grabbed a brace to push her goal tally to seven in the ongoing tournament.
Bolden said it was a “great feeling” to score two against “a really formidable opponent,” but the in-form forward deflected praise to her teammates.
“It was a collective team [effort],” said Bolden as she pointed out the importance of Annis’ spot kick at the 51st minute of the match against Vietnam.
“She doesn’t score that [penalty kick], who knows what happens? So again, it was a total team effort, I’m really proud of every player and staff.”
A total team effort will be needed once more as the 53rd-ranked Filipinas attempt to overcome Thailand, the world No. 43 and 2019 tournament runner-up.
Although the Filipinas lost in their previous meeting, Bolden looks forward to feeding off energy from the home fans for one last time.
“When you have that home crowd, it’s the greatest feeling and it really, really does help,” she said.
“The numbers have been growing and I absolutely love that, and I hope it continues to grow in this final championship game.”
Stajcic also echoed Bolden’s sentiments as he’s amazed by the support that the team has been getting throughout the tournament.
“The players feel that love, and the more love there is the better they’re gonna perform,” said Stajcic. – Rappler.com