Momentum continues for Philippine women’s football on the international stage as the Girls U-15 team won all its elimination games in the AFF U-15 Girls Championship held in Vientiane, Laos: 2-0 over Indonesia, 3-0 over Cambodia, and 3-0 over Singapore.
The 23-strong squad opened its campaign last Tuesday, May 9 with a win against Indonesia.
During that affair, the Philippines went into attack mode almost instantly firing off shot after shot at the Indonesian goal. It took twenty minutes for the girls to get its first goal for the ASEAN tournament by way of Viviana Cera. Thirteen minutes later the score doubled after her free kick was headed into goal by Katelyn Alexander. Cera was eventually named the player of the match.
The second game proved decisive where a win would seal the Philippines’ place in the semifinal with just three opponents in their group.
Tension eased off when Alexander’s free kick put the Philippines ahead of Cambodia in the 14th minute. This allowed the girls to gain confidence under the lights of the majestic new KM16 Stadium, materializing in Maria Lazo’s unopposed run in the 40th minute en route to the game’s second goal. Anya Fuentes put the icing on the cake when she brushed aside the last defender who was bigger than her to put her name on the score sheet after 66 minutes. Alexander was later credited as the game’s best performer.
In the final group match versus Singapore, while assured of a place in the last four the team aimed to finish the elimination round as group leaders that will face the other group’s second best team.
The Philippines were off to a comfortable start after Arianna Le Page hit early with a sixth minute header. It took a while before the girls found their second goal with another header this time by Myria Garcia securing it in the 62nd minute. The team notched their third goal six minutes later when Cera fired a long-range beauty after being almost tackled, which became a perfect excuse to celebrate with a now adored team selfie pose. Le Page was named the top match player afterwards.
The squad is comprised of players born no earlier than 2002 and are based locally and abroad with many players returning from last year’s productive U-14 team that collected silver in the AFC U-14 Girls Regional Championship, also held in Laos.
Previously that team’s assistant coach Marielle Benitez now helms the team as its head coach. She is assisted by then head coach Joyce Landagan, Patrice Impelido who has captained the senior team in Tajikistan last month, goalkeeper coach Eleonora Dillera with physiotherapist Mae Pongase and team manager Lalaine Sarmiento rounding out the staff.
“So far I’m very happy with our performances throughout eliminations,” Benitez reflected, ahead of the tournament’s crucial stage. “Our goal was to make it to the semifinals and to the finals. I know the girls can still play better. You’d see glimpses of brilliance from our play and there are still a few lapses that need to be worked on. [But] I’m happy that in every match we continue to improve.
“Overall, the girls have been very good. You really see the team effort, they’re happy when they play. When they’re happy and relaxed their game comes out.”
The girls will be heading for the semifinal not only undefeated but without having conceded any goals props to the brilliant defensive efforts of keepers Rizamae Ugbaniel, Jessica Pido, Darryle Tangco and defenders like Gabriela Collatos who has captained two games. There in the knockout match they will meet Myanmar on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (Philippine time).
Benitez is wary of the team’s next foes especially with their in-form striker Myat Noe Khin who scored a hat-trick in their last elimination game but thinks her wards will do well if they just tighten the defense and execute the offensive gameplan.
“Malaysia [their last opponent, a winless team] has scored against them which proves that they are a team that can be scored on,” Benitez furthered.
“The girls now they’re just excited to start playing again for the semifinals. In terms of wanting [the win] you can ask any of the girls here and they’ll tell you that they want it bad.”