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Philippine U-15 Girls advances to first-ever AFF Final

It was a test of character for the Philippines in the semifinal of the AFF U-15 Girls Championship after surrendering a halftime lead and going down 1-2 in the second half until Viviana Cera’s sheer grit and Myria Garcia’s late winner edged Myanmar out.

The day started somewhat ominous with wet weather and rain clouds plaguing the skies until late in the afternoon in Vientiane. This was somewhat reflected by the Philippines’ game for most of the first half as they played tentatively, clearly rusty after a four day layoff.

Yet the girls found a way out of the slump as Katelyn Alexander’s through ball down the center to Myria Garcia broke the deadlock to put the Philippines in front at nearly halftime.

After restart, Myanmar were determined to show their strong play for most of the first half wasn’t all for show. They eventually forced an equalizer after star player Myat Noe Khin drew most of the defenders and Su Pyae Pyae Kyaw easily finished a low cross from her captain seven minutes in.

The Burmese continued to be the aggressors and they took the lead five minutes later after Kyaw took advantage of a defensive error.

Shellshocked but not out of it, the young Pinays gathered themselves and worked for a comeback. They got it five minutes later when it was their turn to capitalize on a defensive error which Cera easily put away, 2-all.

The air at the KM16 stadium turned thick with anxiety as fans in the bleachers continuously screamed wondering whether the match will end up in penalties as there were no extra times to break the tie at this level, or if someone will score a late winner.

And it was none other than Garcia, whose brace came oh so timely with four minutes to go: a rocket from more than twenty yards out after dropping her defender. Jubilation and for the Philippines as the match reached full time. Garcia was named player of the match.

“I think in tonight’s match what really was great was that the girls never gave up. They bounced back,” head coach Marielle Benitez proudly stated after the game. “After we were scored on we were able to equalize and eventually we kept our composure and got that lead in the final minutes of that match. So I’m very happy with the strength of the girls physically, mentally and emotionally.”

The team will meet Thailand for the final tomorrow, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (Philippine time) after they handily won their semifinal against Cambodia 6-0 prior to this match.

Benitez admitted they have some unfinished business with Thailand after last year’s loss to them with the same team, then the U-14’s, in the final of the AFC tournament in which they finished silver.

“We lost one-nil last year and we knew we could have won that game. So I think the driving factor this year is wanting to prove to themselves, to everyone else that we are capable of winning the gold on Saturday,” Benitez said.