It was as if the cold and wet weather that night decided to conspire with the Philippines in its opener at the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers, as goals rained down on their opponents, the United Arab Emirates, Monday evening at the Pamir Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
Not bothered by the brisk cold that averaged at 10 degrees Celsius that night, the Filipinas seemed quite at home when they put the pressure on their opponents early on.
As bright as the yellow threads they were wearing, this optimism paid off in the 14th minute. Alesa Dai Dolino’s long pass from way out back led to Irish Navaja flying down the right flank, before she passed it off to Sara Castañeda. Castañeda collected the ball just outside the box, noticed Eva Madarang near the penalty spot, and all it took was a short pass before the striker slammed home the Philippines’ first goal for the tournament.
Jovelle Sudaria went close to doubling the Philippines’ lead seventeen minutes later after a headed pass from Madarang in the area gave her a clear view of the goal, but her shot went slightly over.
Defender Claire Lim had the same opportunity when her free kick near the halfway line hit the crossbar in the 42nd minute.
Eventually, it was Madarang again who consolidated the lead after Lim’s pass near the halfway line dropped the ball in her vicinity. Madarang fended off defenders before volleying in for a brace.
After halftime, the Filipinas refused to take the foot off the pedal as they continued to attack.
Five minutes into restart, a run into UAE’s final third led to Madarang bullying for the ball which she passed to Castañeda. Seeing Navaja running down the left flank, Castañeda rewarded her efforts with a pass which Navaja struck. From what looked like a cross intended for Madarang, the ball instead hit the far post that bounced into the net.
Four minutes later, it was Navaja who returned the favor to her La Sallian teammate when her cross was calmly collected by Castañeda, who only had to chip the ball into the net for the Philippines’ final goal of the night.
All the goals that were scored are first international goals for Madarang, Navaja, and Castañeda. Madarang and Navaja also made their first caps as starters, along with Sudaria. Anicka Castañeda, Alisha Del Campo, Zhyrelle Belluga made their first caps coming on as substitutes.
Asked if nerves were an issue during her first cap, Navaja — later named AFC’s Woman of the Match — said it didn’t bother her at all.
“I didn’t feel nervous. Kasi yung mindset ko sa game na talaga. Nung Sunday training palang, I was in the first eleven group so pinaghandaan ko. Kailangan ko maglaro ng maayos at maipakita sa mga coaches na I am worth being part of the first eleven,” revealed Navaja but later admitted to succumbing a little to the importance of the occasion.
“When we were walking to the field holding hands, I felt happy and got teary eyed. But I said, ‘No, no, stop it ‘Rish don’t get emotional!’ because you know the effects of singing our national anthem makes me feel that way.”
Navaja clarified she held back to focus on such a crucial game.
“We need to win every game, [one game] at a time, so we better start it from the beginning. I think we are all [on the same] page, everyone is spreading the good vibes especially our coaches. They make us all laugh and eventually it [all] worked out,” she added.
Philippines XI: Palacios, Lim, Dolino, Long, Tomanon (Belluga), Sudaria (Castañeda A.), Parado, Impelido (C), Castañeda S., Navaja, Madarang (Del Campo)
UAE XI: Abdulla Saif (C), Al Baloshi, Khamis, Mamdouh, Obaid Sanad Rashid, Faleh, Ahmed (Ahmed Alhammadi), Taheri, Khaled (Ahmad), Mehayer, Gharib Juma (Jassem)
Next match for the Philippines will be on April 5, Wednesday, as the Nationals take on Iraq at 4 p.m. (Philippine time).
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2019 AFC Women’s Cup Qualifiers Group A Standings
JORDAN – 3 pts (+6)
PHILIPPINES – 3 pts (+4)
TAJIKISTAN – 3 pts (+1)
IRAQ – 0 pt (-1)
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – 0 pt (-4)
BAHRAIN – 0 pt (-6)
Photo from AFC.com