Bolden is golden and Filipinas make World Cup herstory

Sarina Bolden makes winning goal for the Philippine team and its first in World Cup competition. —VIDEOGRAB IMAGE

Don’t count them out yet. It’s true that the Filipinas—or the Philippine Women’s National Football Team—were blanked, 2-0, by the top-ranked Swiss squad in their historic FIFA Women’s World Cup debut last July 21, strengthening the 500-1 chance given by the United Kingdom-based sports betting community platform, OLBG.

But against New Zealand, which cohosts the event with Australia, the 46th-ranked Filipinas emerged triumphant, stunning the 25th-ranked Ferns with a 1-0 win in the July 25 (Philippine time) match held at the Wellington Stadium aka Sky Stadium.

The Filipinas’ 1-0 victory earned the Philippines 3 points to stay alive in Group A of the tournament. They play next against Norway on July 30 (7 p.m. New Zealand time, Eden Park).

In an interview with the New Zealand Herald, Filipinas coach Alen Stajcic was quoted as saying: “We belong, and we think we can compete and be at this level. It’s very hard when you’re from non-footballing nations in Southeast Asia. Just 18 months ago it was our first-ever win against Thailand and our first-ever win against Vietnam, and Myanmar. And now we are at a World Cup and we’re playing against Switzerland, New Zealand and Norway.”


The historic goal was made in the 24th minute of the game when Filipinas forward Sarina Bolden, a crucial pillar of Philippine women’s national football for the past few years, rose above her defenders to make a header that slipped from the hands of Ferns goalkeeper Victoria Esson.

Bolden, 27, is now in the Philippine sports record books as the first Philippine-team member to score at a FIFA World Cup match. Kudos also go to goalkeeper Olivia Davies McDaniel, who made several brilliant diving stops and punches—including saving four shots on target—to avert any chance of New Zealand to equalize.

The game was almost tied on the 68th minute of the game but the header by Fern forward Jaqui Hand was ruled offside by the VAR (video assistant referee). 

But it would be the Philippines’ night, making World Cup herstory. Against the Ferns, coach Stajcic employed a more defensive 3-5-2 formation with Angela Beard, Jessica Cowart, and Hali Long forming the backline for goalkeeper McDaniel. Katrina Guillou in tandem with Bolden—who has recorded 23 goals in her Filipinas career—took care of the frontline.

Sofia Nicole Dador Harrison, Sara Eggesvik, Jaclyn Sawicki, Quinley Quezada, and Alicia Barker formed a strong midfield for Stajcic. These five stifled Hannah Wilkinson, New Zealand’s top scorer, preventing her from receiving good crosses and passes from her teammates and forcing her into physical duels.

Related: Filipinas, new queen of Asean football, raises the bar higher, Filipinas’ World Cup Cinderella run ends, but applause, admiration remain

Game’s biggest stage

Before Bolden’s historic goal, many in the Philippines were content just seeing their team making it into the World Cup, the game’s biggest stage—more than enough reward for the country’s 43-year-old football program.

To put this into perspective, only 32 out of 188 nations made it to the 9th edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

When, in January 2019, Stajcic was dismissed as Australia’s national women’s football team coach (after having guided the team to as high as 4th in the FIFA world rankings), the Philippines saw this as an opportunity to get someone to steer a national team that had won nothing, and had never qualified for a single major tournament.

Appointed in October 2021, Stajcic immediately made an impact. He steered the Filipinas to the quarterfinals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup on Jan. 30, 2022, where the Filipinas claimed a penalty shootout cliffhanger against Chinese Taipei, winning 4-3 after a 1-1 draw. The win enabled the Filipinas to qualify for their first-ever Women’s World Cup.

In July 2022, the Filipinas captured the AFF Women’s Championship crown for the first time with a 3-0 victory over powerhouse Thailand. These wins enabled the Philippines to advance in ranking from a lowly 133rd in 2011 to 53rd by 2022.

The secret, according to Stajcic in a recent interview with FIFA+, is traveling the world and building the experience of the Filipinas, which is mostly composed of players with Filipino roots who were born and raised in the United States (18 out of 23). “We played 26 or 27 A internationals last year [secret friendlies included]. I don’t know any other national team that’s played as many games as that or been together as long as we have,” he said.

Despite the historic win, the Filipinas remain third in ranking (only the top two in  each group advance to the next round) behind Switzerland and New Zealand. With Switzerland and Norway sharing a scoreless draw early this evening (July 25), Group A is anybody’s ballgame. Sitting at the top of Group A is Switzerland with 4 points, while New Zealand and the Philippines each have three. Norway has one point.

With these scores, there are scenarios under which each of them could advance to the Last 16 depending on the results this Sunday, July 30. The Swiss battles New Zealand (3 p.m. Philippine time) while Norway must win against the Philippines (3 p.m. Philippine time) for a chance to improve its last place ranking, so expect intense battles. And with the resurgent Filipinas, one should never rule out the World Cup debutant continuing its meteoric rise.

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