Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fair Play: Malditas face Thailand in historic match

ONE of the biggest matches in Philippine football will happen on May 23, in faraway Bangladesh. No, it doesn't involve the Azkals, but the Malditas, the Philippine women's national team that is seeking a berth in the Asian Football Confederation Women's Cup.

Not much have been written about the team, a fact that fiery coach Ernie Nierras is using as a challenge.

And with the way things went last Tuesday, I hope things will still go under the radar today, when they take on Thailand.

Against Iran, which according to the Sach Times, was confident of qualifying to the final stage AFC Women's Cup, the Malditas took a 3-0 lead in the first five minutes--that's not a typo--with Heather Cooke, Megan Jurado and Jesse Shugg all connecting against the No. 11 ranked country in Asia.  It was 5-0 after the first half after an own goal and Joana Houplin's strike and at full time, it was 6-0, with Shugg scoring in injury time.

On Thursday, they will take on Thailand, the leader of the group after routing host Bangladesh, 9-0, also last Tuesday and today's game will determine which team will make the final stage.

For the qualifiers, the 16 teams have been divided into four groups of four, and the group winners will join automatic qualifiers Japan, South Korea, China and reigning champion Australia (whose monicker is the Matildas) in the final stage.

Based on paper, Thailand is the better team as it is ranked sixth in Asia and 29th in the world.  But based on paper, too, Iran was supposed to beat the Malditas as it was 11th in Asia and 52nd in the world.  In contrast, the Philippines is at No. 18 in Asia and at No. 83 in the world.

But last Tuesday, the Malditas showed the ranking doesn't justify the team's talent.

It's not only the Asian Cup berth that's at stake here.  If the Malditas qualify, they will get a chance to fight for the five Fifa Women's World Cup slots for Asia in the final.  Philip Hagedorn, of the UFL, said he expects the Malditas to qualify first for the world cup than the Azkals and I agree. It was an observation I made to a coach in 1997 during the women's matches of the Philippine National Games--I said that we would enjoy women's success first before the men's.  But that was before we scouted Europe for the best talents with Pinoy lineages.

Battle and bleed, the Malditas love to say and against Thailand, I hope the team gets to show what they are really capable of, the rankings be damned.


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