By Ignacius Carell Cruz

PHOTO: The Philippine Football Federation

What a time to be a Filipino football fan.

After over a century of bittersweet defeats, the Philippine Women’s National Football Team (PWNFT) completed their Cinderella story at the summit of Southeast Asia after hoisting the country’s first-ever major title in football, clobbering perennial powerhouse and World No. 43 Thailand, 3-nil, in the final of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Women’s Championship 2022 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Powered by an electrifying 8,000 crowd in attendance, the Filipinas got their revenge against Thailand as they outclassed the Female Elephants, who were shell shocked on both sides of the pitch, thanks to their tactical passing.

The floodgates opened at the 7-minute mark, where defender Jessika Cowart headed home the right-corner pass from captain Tahnai Annis, giving the Philippines the lead, 1-0.

Twelve minutes later, a disrupted shot from Jaclyn Sawicki became a blessing in disguise for Katrina Guillo, whose left-footed tap-in reached the bottom-right corner of the net to give the four-time AFF Women’s champion Thailand a taller mountain to climb.

The Philippines had a golden chance to reach the second half going three-goals-to-none, but all-time goal-scorer Quinley Quezada’s header from Annis's left-corner set hit the top of the post before sailing outside.

The World Cup-bound Filipinas continued to challenge Thailand’s aerial defense in the second half to score their third goal, but Quezada’s right-footed shot in the 59th minute mark just hit the right post.

On the other hand, the decorated Thailand gained rejuvenated energy in substitutes Sangarawee Meekham and Alisa Rukpinji, who were able to dissect the Philippine defense and give themselves an opportunity to get back in the ball game.

The Female Elephants’ best chance at goal came in the 78th minute mark thanks to Meekham's amazing run, but her cross in the box was poorly struck by Rukpinji and the ball sailed above the goal.

Before the end of the match, the tournament’s leading scorer, Sarina Bolden, answered the cries of the Filipino fans of another goal and hammered the nails in the coffin for Thailand as her spectacular header in the 88th minute mark found the back of the net, ultimately securing the crown for the Filipinas with a 3-nil victory.

Filipino-Australian Head Coach Alen Stajcic had nothing to show but uncontainable joy in his face as he praised his team for a fantastic tournament.

“That was an exhilarating performance from everyone, from the players, and even the crowd. We had to play ten games within 25 days across two continents," said Stajcic.

"That is just so much heart, spirit, and determination which is a testament of this team,” he added.

However, the World Cup-bound tactician was quick to point out that there is "still a long way to go" for the Filipinas and this is just the beginning for them in the long run.

“We have conquered Southeast Asia, but I know there are more mountains to climb in Asia and in the World Cup next year, there are bigger battles ahead,” according to Stajcic.

Meanwhile, Goal-scorer Guillo emphasized how an incredible amount of emotions went inside of her after winning the championship for the Filipino fans who have supported them all throughout.

“I am at a loss for words. Going into the AFC we set a goal and then we qualified for the World Cup. Afterwards, we got a SEA Games Bronze. This is a dream come true, winning gold medals for the fans,” said Guillo.

Edited by Quian Vencel Agpalsa Galut