Friday 21 July 2023, 02:30

A new dawn for Filipino women’s football

  • The Philippines’ progress culminated with history-making FIFA Women’s World Cup™ qualification

  • Filipinas’ breakthrough a testament to country’s development efforts

  • FIFA Forward funding in 2018 provided a catalyst to uplift the national women’s league

By any standards, the Philippines' maiden qualification for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand™ was remarkable. “It has been a long journey,” said Mariano Araneta, President of the Philippine Football Federation. “It (qualification) is a great achievement. It’s a testament of the sacrifice, discipline and hard work of our players, our coaching staff, the management team and those that are involved in women’s football. The Philippines has shown that nothing is impossible.”

Indeed, only those following their development closely are aware what they have been through. A regional pioneer of the women’s game, the fledging women’s game was played largely at an amateur level. The Philippines national team had however, made little impression on the international stage, never finishing beyond the group phase in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup before 2018.

The new-look Women’s League

Realising they needed a fresh start, the PFF switched the focus to youth development, all too aware that a competitive women’s national league was essential. FIFA, duly provided financial support through the FIFA Forward programme, and the joint efforts paid off in 2018 with the launch of the new-look PFF women’s league. Ten of the country's best women’s teams competed across 45 matches from July to November, with De La Salle University finishing as the champions. Araneta paid tribute to FIFA for the strong support in their development.

“We are thankful to FIFA for supporting the women’s league since 2018,” he said. “The league has showcased the talent and skills of our local players, and enabled us to form the national team pool primarily from them.” For local manager Ernie Nierras, FIFA's support is essential as the national league has evolved from a school-based competition to a club-based competition. "FIFA's support is tremendous," said the former Philippines boss. "When we started four years ago, we started with about eight club teams. Now, we have 14 teams competing."

Women’s futsal on the rise

With the ever-growing popularity of women’s football, the PFF also cast their sights on development beyond the 11-a-side game. With basketball remaining the country's No.1 sport, the PFF shrewdly started to use the country's countless basketball and volleyball courts, and gyms, as venues for women's futsal. FIFA again provided assistance, via FIFA Technical Expert and legendary former player and coach, Vic Hermans.

"The PFF launched an in-school programme in 2016, training PE teachers to work at grassroots-level, especially girls," said Michael Kevin Goco, Head of PFF Futsal. "Vic (Hermans) pinpointed women's futsal as an area of priority focus in the country and with his advice, the PFF launched the High 5 Women's Futsal League this April. “The pilot season features eight clubs from both community groups, and colleges. The players are being scouted, and a pool will be selected for our women's national futsal team. In the following years we want to grow and professionalise the league, launch regional futsal leagues, and continue to improve our national team.”

Milestone campaign

With an improved development infrastructure in place, success started to follow for the PFF. The Filipinas finished sixth at Jordan 2018 on their return to the AFC Women's Asian Cup. The next year they went on to win a first bronze medal at the 2019 AFF Women's Championship. Then came the major breakthrough. At last year’s 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup - which doubled as the continent's FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier - the Filipinas, under Australian Alen Stajcic, stunned three-time winners Chinese Taipei on penalties to storm into the last four, thus sealing their maiden qualification.

"I’m so excited about the Women's World Cup," said the Philippines goalkeeper Inna Palacios. "It is something I just didn't imagine would happen in my lifetime. It is a dream come true." The passion for the women’s game has been truly ignited across the country, with fans looking earnestly to their team to impress on their FIFA Women’s World Cup debut. The PFF are all too aware that the global showpiece provides them with a rare opportunity to take the women's game to another new level.