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Around the World in Women's Soccer: The Filipina Malditas

Around the World in Women's Soccer is a series that explores women's soccer in other countries. Usually each country gets two stories: one on the domestic league and one on the national team. However, because the Philippines domestic league has not competed since 2020, this article will explore both topics.

The Philippines' run at the AFC Women's Asian Cup came to an end on February 3rd, but history had already been made.

The Philippines has fielded a national women's soccer team since the 1980s. Initially playing under the Philippine Ladies' Football Association, the team was founded by Cristina Ramos, who also played with the team until 1986. They took part in some of the earliest Asian competitions for women's soccer, including the 1983 Asian Women's Championship and the 1985 Southeast Asian Games.

Eventually, the national team was absorbed into the Philippine Football Federation, as was necessary to compete in FIFA-sanctioned competitions. The team competed in the early iterations of the AFC Women's Asian Cup but took a long hiatus starting in 2003. While it continued to be active in regional Southeast Asian competitions, the team did not qualify for another AFC Women's Asian Cup until 2018.

Coming into the 2022 tournament, the Philippines were underdogs. They are currently led by Alen Stajcic, an Australian national best known for managing the Matildas until he was abruptly sacked in 2019. He was appointed manager of the Malditas in October 2021, just a couple of months before the start of the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup. But he knew the goal: qualify for the 2023 Women's World Cup.

This was no small task. In this tournament, the Philippines found itself in a group with Indonesia, Australia and Thailand. While the Philippines is ranked higher than Indonesia in the FIFA Rankings, Australia and Thailand are both ranked higher, and both came into the tournament with World Cup experience. But the Philippines got a crucial 1-0 win in their opening match against Thailand, thanks to a late goal from Chandler McDaniel and a strong defensive performance. They lost their second game 4-0 to Australia but bounced back with a strong 6-0 win against Indonesia. That was enough to carry them to the quarterfinals.

In the quarterfinals, the Philippines met Chinese Taipei. Despite the team outshooting Chinese Taipei 25-11, regular time ended in a 1-1 draw, and the two teams went to penalty kicks. Things looked shaky after a couple of misses, but two blocked shots and a miss for Chinese Taipei and one final strike from Sarina Bolden were enough to carry the Philippines into the AFC Women's Asian Cup semifinals and guarantee them a spot at the 2023 Women's World Cup. While the Malditas went on to lose 2-0 to South Korea in the semifinals, their larger mission had already been accomplished.

The Philippines' current roster is a mixture of veterans and new talent. At 32, but with only 10 caps under her belt, team captain Tahnai Annis appears to be both. Born in the United States, she played collegiate soccer at the University of Florida and has some experience playing in the Icelandic domestic league. She's currently not attached to a club.

Sarina Bolden scored the game-winning penalty that carried the Philippines to the semifinals. Bolden is also from the United States and plays her club soccer in Japan. She's scored five goals in just 12 matches for the Philippines.

The player with the most national team experience is goalkeeper Inna Palacios, who at 27 has 47 caps for the Philippines. However, injuries kept her sidelined for the Women's Asian Cup. Instead, Olivia Davies-McDaniel, a 24-year-old from Laguna Beach, California, was the primary starter in goal.

With the Women's Asian Cup over, the Philippines is looking forward to that big date on their calendar. Just getting there is historic; the Philippines has never qualified for a World Cup in the men's or women's game. Obviously, they don't want qualification to be the end of their historic run, but it will be an uphill climb. While Stajcic only came on as head coach in October 2021, his contract expired at the end of the AFC tournament, so the team will have to sign him to a new deal. At least eight players on the current roster aren't playing at the club or collegiate level, and the Philippines domestic league hasn't played since 2020.

But the Philippines have been the underdogs before. And their message is clear.

"Don't forget about us," Sarina Bolden said. "We're coming back."

You can follow along with the Philippines' journey to the 2023 Women's World Cup on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can follow Sarina Bolden on Instagram, Tahnai Annis on Twitter and Instagram, and Olivia Davies-McDaniel on Twitter and Instagram.