SENDING INSPIRATION TO FANS BACK HOME
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Sarina Bolden tried her best to avoid shedding a tear while searching for words to express what it meant to pull off another historic football moment for the Philippines here in Wellington, New Zealand.
“It feels like I’m in a dream. It doesn’t look real,” Bolden said after her landmark goal gifted the country its first-ever victory in the Fifa Women’s World Cup, global football’s grandest stage.
Her goal in the 24th minute was touched off by a Sara Eggesvik pass which the 27-year-old Bolden headed past the hands of New Zealand’s Victoria Esson.It was one fleeting moment of glory on the pitch in front of 32,357 fans, but it will be a lasting memory for the striker and her nation.
“I’ll remember this moment, forever. For the rest of my life,” Bolden said. “I’m so happy that I could be a part of it and make history with my teammates and everyone involved.”
There was not a dry eye among the Filipinas and their fans who turned the cold Wellington Regional Stadium here into a Down Under version of Rizal Memorial Stadium with chants of “Go Pilipinas!” and “Isa pa!” And it was as emotional for fans back home, the ones the team has been fighting for.
“Oh my God, I am so emotional about our first-ever World Cup win,” said Bethany Talbot, 21, in Manila as she stood in front of a large poster of Bolden.
“I know all the other girls out there, all the girls, all feel the same. I feel like I’m speechless right now, but I’m so over the moon.”
When Bolden’s goal looked like it might not be enough for the Philippines, goalkeeper Olivia McDaniel came up with an inspiring performance between the sticks, earning player of the match honors.
And the Filipinas also rode a bit of luck from sophisticated technology that has yet to reach the country’s shores before the Filipinas earned their World Cup victory in just their second match ever in the tournament.
“When you hear stories of how it has taken other teams to win World Cup matches and to think that we’ve done it in only our second World Cup match in our first World Cup, it’s a special moment in the history of Philippine team sports,” said coach Alen Stajcic.
It’s a quick achievement, indeed, compared to many football nations, including some of the 32 that are here and in nearby Australia for the competition, who had waited for years or are still in search of that elusive first victory.And the team is looking to turn that historic victory into a fairy tale.
“Hopefully this is not the last accolade that we can achieve,” said McDaniel.
With struggling Norway, the consensus top team in Group A, held to a scoreless draw by Switzerland also on Tuesday, the Philippines actually has a shot at making the knockout stages of the tournament. But for that to happen, the Filipinas will have to make a quick turnaround and put on an ultra-incredible performance to beat the 1995 champion on Sunday in Auckland’s Eden Park.
Switzerland, which defeated the Philippines with a 2-0 result last Friday in Dunedin, is ahead with four points while the Philippines and New Zealand have similar three points. Norway, still groping for form and with star striker Ada Hegerberg now out due to an injury before the Switzerland game, has only produced a point.
McDaniel’s stops frustrated a New Zealand side that couldn’t produce a followup to its own historic football first which was last week’s 1-0 win over Norway, which happened in the Football Ferns’ sixth appearance.“It’s so heartbreaking for everyone in this team,” said their Czech coach Jitka Klimkova.
New Zealand threatened for most of the second half. Jacqui Hand almost tied the match past the hour mark, only for her attempt to hit the left post and roll into McDaniel’s gloves.
And it appeared that Hand got her second chance when she scored a header off a Hannah Wilkinson header in the 68th minute.
Ironically, Fifa’s VAR, which ruled a foul on Jessika Cowart during a challenge in the box and resulted in the first of Switzerland’s two goals against the Philippines, came to the country’s rescue this time after showing that Wilkinson was barely offside before she set up the pass for Hand.