I was among the more than 8,000 ecstatic fans at the Rizal Memorial Stadium last Sunday who witnessed how the Philippine women’s national football team, now called the Filipinas, won the 2022 ASEAN Football Federation Women’s Championship.
It was another historic triumph for the Filipinas as they mesmerized the flag-waving hometown crowd who cheered wildly as the team beat Southeast Asia powerhouse Thailand 3-0. The Filipinas emerged champions after Jessika Cowart scored a goal in the 7th minute, followed by Katrina Guillou in the 19th, and then crowd-favorite Sarina Bolden in 88th.
It was the Filipinas’ first-ever finals appearance in the major regional tournament after dethroning defending champion Vietnam, 4-0, in the semifinals last Friday. Before capturing the ASEAN championship, the Filipinas made history last Jan. 30 when, for the first time ever, our country has secured a berth in the World Cup, set in Australia and New Zealand in 2023.
I share the view of coach Allen Stajcic who said the excellent showing of the Filipinas ought to inspire more young Filipinos toward football. In the world of sports, football (soccer) is indisputably the most watched and the most loved, with an international audience numbering 3.5 billion fans, or one of every two people in the planet.
Being the most dominant sport in almost every country in the world, it’s a pity that most Filipinos in this basketball-crazed country of ours aren’t yet crazy about football as well. I hope that changes as the Filipinas soar to greater heights. Their latest triumph can be deemed a breath of fresh air, especially now that our national basketball team is facing difficulties.
Indeed, it is in football that the Philippines has a chance to excel in international sports competitions. Unlike in other sports, football players don’t really need to be tall and hefty.
In 1996, as Laguna governor, I promoted football in the province starting with elementary and high school students. With training and facilities made available, Laguna emerged as consistent champion in regional and national competitions.
The Laguna Cup, similar to Gothia Cup in Scandinavian countries, was what I organized in Laguna with several teams from other provinces and cities participating. The sports events were the biggest elementary and high school competitions at that time. Unfortunately, the football program in Laguna was discontinued after I joined the cabinet as DILG secretary.
But the inspiring triumph of the Filipinas could make things happen anew. Young football enthusiasts from all over the country, particularly in the grassroots level, could be tapped to expand the base of Filipino players and raise the level of the sport here in our country.
The extensive development of football starting from the grassroots is crucial. It is imperative that short-term, medium-term, and long-term programs for training and nurturing of our young football enthusiasts are sustained. In fact, such programs have been the focus of the Laguna-Cavite Regional Football Association of which I am president.
It is also beyond dispute that government support is vital. Without such, grassroots sports development essential in building an elite sports program is not sustainable. Local government units working hand in hand with the private sector is ideal for grassroots sports development.
With unrelenting support, the Philippines might even become the “football capital” in Southeast Asia. That isn’t farfetched, especially now that the Filipinas is Southeast Asia’s best.
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