How Team Philippines Making History on FIFA Women's World Cup Debut

Wearing their maroon uniforms, each player of the “Filipinas”, the Philippine Women's National Football team, walked towards the side of Olympic Park in New Lynn, Auckland. They waved their hands at the patient football fans who were standing in line, eagerly waiting to meet them.

Children with their parents were present in the crowd holding posters, soccer balls, and jerseys in an effort to obtain the players' autographs. Among the excited spectators were three Kiwi-Filipino sisters, Shanny, Sophie, and Sherrie. The team Filipinas even invited them to the field for a mini-game and a group photo.

Sherrie, the youngest among the siblings, felt inspired by meeting the members of the Filipinas. She expressed her newfound confidence, saying, "Meeting the team players makes me feel confident. I have a dream to join a football varsity. They advised me to concentrate and listen to my parents, teachers, and other people who give good advice. They advised me the importance of concentration, and it doesn't matter if you lose; the main thing is to be a good teammate and have fun."

Young girls like Sherrie are among the reasons why the Philippine team takes their FIFA World Cup debut seriously. They aim to serve as an inspiration to Filipinos back home, showing them that anyone can achieve seemingly impossible dreams.

The Philippines' women football national team, the Filipinas, during their meet-and-greet session in Auckland. Left photo shows football fans sisters: Shanny, Sherrie, and Sophie. Photo: Carla Teng/Asia Media Centre

Adding Football in Filipinos' Three "Bs"

During the meet-and-greet event, the Asia Media Centre had an interview with Hali Long, the Filipinas' defender and team co-captain. She conveyed that being in New Zealand for the FIFA Women's World Cup feels surreal every day. Moreover, she finds it hard to believe the overwhelming support from the Filipino communities in Aotearoa.

"It’s unreal. I knew there’s Filipinos here, but I didn’t know it’s that many. It’s such a breath of fresh air to feel loved by more than just the Filipinos but also by the people who just love sports in general. Filipinos are everywhere so it’s really nice that we could find them anywhere in New Zealand,” Long said.

With approximately 100,000 Filipinos residing in New Zealand, the Philippine team has received a warm welcome from the communities since their arrival in the country. In a show of massive support, tickets for the Philippines' games, particularly in Wellington and Auckland, are almost sold out.

The inclusion of Filipinas in the FIFA Women's World Cup is a remarkable achievement for the Philippines, as the team is making its mark in football history.

In a country where beauty pageants, basketball, and boxing, known as the three "Bs," dominate, the Philippine women's football team aspires to generate more interest in the sport during their inaugural World Cup appearance.

The team anticipates that their debut will bring about a revolution in football within the country, inspiring more people to embrace and support the sport.

Long explained, “I mean we are not one of the three Bs, and we’re definitely not at the likes of volleyball or anything like that. So, it is exciting that we got to do something this big on this big of a stage to show that if you really dream big and you work hard, and you accept all the highs and lows in your journey and you really want it, you can get it.”

“I hope this shows the little girls [in the Philippines] will do the same, that they can get whatever they want if they don’t quit and obviously enjoy the journey. None of us would be here if we didn’t enjoy this and kept it fun because it’s all about having fun, and if you don’t love what you’re doing, at the end of the day, why you’re doing it?”

Filipinas' squad signing fan's soccer ball at the Olympic Park's meet-and-greet event. Photo: Carla Teng/Asia Media Centre.

The majority of the national team players are drawn from the enormous Filipino diaspora, and the players emphasise the importance of investing more in finding and developing new talent, particularly in a developing country like the Philippines.

They stressed that football only requires a ball and your feet, refuting the myth that it is a wealthy-only activity.

The Philippines has never competed in either the men's or women's FIFA World Cups. However, when the women's team plays Switzerland on July 21 in Dunedin, under the direction of Australian coach Alen Stajcic, things will change.

The team's journey from "almost ground zero" to the World Cup was considered "miraculous" by Stajcic, as around half of the players are not linked with professional clubs and only train on their own.

Despite the obstacles, the team has made an incredible progress.

Since Stajcic's hiring as coach in late 2021, the Philippines have risen from 68th to a new high of 46th in the FIFA rankings.

The team's FIFA status began with a semifinal appearance in the 2022 Women's Asian Cup, where they secured a historic World Cup qualifying post. 

They followed that up with a bronze medal at the Southeast Asian Games and a home victory in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Women's Championship in their home country, the Philippines.

Stajcic's knowledge has been important to the Philippines' advancement. He has boosted the club's performance with his expertise as a player and coach in Australia, including guiding the Australian Women's National Team, the Matildas, in the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada. 

The Australian coach imparted the value of extended training sessions in the team's development, such as the 10-week camp in the United States prior to the Asian Cup.

But he also recognises the difficulties of playing against teams from Europe and North America, where women's football has grown exponentially.

Regardless of this fact, he feels that the Philippine team in the FIFA Women's World Cup will make an impact, as they are already making an impression.

"You can tell everyone is excited to be here," Stajcic said in a quick interview during the open training session.

He added that the players really worked hard to get to where they are now. Since this is their World Cup debut, they are managing their expectations, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t come prepared to compete.

Filipinas team members posing with football fans: (R-L) Defender Angela Beard, Coach Alen Stajcic, and Midfielder Meryll Serrano. Photo: Carla Teng/Asia Media Centre.

Play to Inspire

Despite the pressure, the team tried to shake it off by simply enjoying every moment in Aotearoa.

Long said, "We always put this kind of pressure on ourselves, and being in our first global tournament, FIFA, it’s an extra pressure. But we’re just giving ourselves grace with everything that comes with this, it’s a whole new experience that none of us had experienced before, as individuals, and let alone as a country. So, it really is a big honour and duty to represent [the Philippines]."

"We are just trying to, honestly, enjoy the moment as it is. It is really exciting and a memorable place to be. Also, it’s the first winter World Cup, a shock that we are here playing at the wintertime."

The team also responded to a social media post by A-League Women’s Dub Zone. The post encouraged both Kiwis and Aussies to support the Philippines as one of their favourite teams on FIFA. This encouragement is particularly relevant now since four A-League’s stars have become members of the Filipinas.

The players featured in the post all have Filipino heritage, and they are: Defender Angela Beard and Midfielder Jaclyn Sawicki, both of whom were former team members of Western United.

Additionally, Sarina Bolden, currently the team’s Forward, was a former squad member of the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Meanwhile, taking on the role of the Philippines’ Goalkeeper is Kiara Fontanilla, who was previously a goalkeeper for the Central Coast Mariners Academy.

With all the anticipation from the football fans, Long's humble reaction was: "We’re obviously the underdogs here, we’re one of the eight new countries here [playing] for the first time, and everyone loves an underdog story, and you can relate more to people who are not necessarily on [the] top. It is really a big opportunity and an honour to be that player for everyone else."

Filipinas' Co-Captain, Hali Long, signs football fan's Philippines flag. Photo: Carla Teng/Asia Media Centre.

The Philippines is in the World Cup’s Group A alongside Norway, Switzerland, and host country New Zealand.

Among the three countries they are up against for the next two weeks, the team is looking forward to facing New Zealand on the field once again.

Long expounded, “Well, we’re not gonna take anyone in our group lightly and I don’t think they’re gonna take us lightly either. But it would be really nice to get a little bit of revenge back since we played with New Zealand [before]. But to do it here, at [their] home, we know exactly what having a twelfth man feels like.”

“Actually, this year, on this day, one year ago, we won our AFF, like our first gold championship, and that was at home [in the Philippines], and we definitely couldn’t have done that if we weren’t at home to have the extra men behind – it really does mean something.”

“So, to go into the battle against the home team, the home crowd, the sold-out crowd, it’s quite the challenge and I would say if anyone loves their country [so much], like the Filipinos or love their country more than the Filipinos - it’s definitely the Kiwis. So that will be a good battle on the field and also in the stands for you guys.”

The Filipinas will face the Football Ferns in Wellington on the 25th of July, and their final pool match will be against Norway in Auckland on the 30th of July.

The Philippine team's debut in the Women's World Cup represents a significant milestone for football in the country, and even though the team believes that they may not get out of the group competition by being a newcomer, they are still going to give their best to inspire people. 

Their remarkable journey and unwavering determination to compete against higher-ranked teams have the potential to revolutionise the sport. There is a hope that their inspiring performance will motivate more young talent and increase the popularity of football in the Philippines, and all of this historic journey will unfold right here in Aotearoa.


-Asia Media Centre