Philippines qualifies for the Women’s AFC Asian Cup: the stories behind the story

Bob Guerrero
Philippines qualifies for the Women’s AFC Asian Cup: the stories behind the story
Bathrobes and Bottle-flips: the Filipinas' success was the fruit of many inspiring tidbits

For Eva Madarang, it was really supposed to be just a week-long vacation. 

The footballer from Newberry Park, California, a small town just outside L.A., had a Philippine passport courtesy of her Pinoy father, and a plan: Come to the Philippines and try out for the national team on a lark. Get cut, go home, and complete the transfer from Moorpark Community College to Rogers State University in Oklahoma, where she would continue playing soccer at a higher level. 

To paraphrase George Peppard’s character from that 80’s show, A-Team, “we love it when a plan doesn’t come together.” 

Madarang made coach Buda Bautista’s squad for AFC Asian Cup qualifiers easily. It was such a surprise to Madarang that she had to buy clothes and other equipment while in Manila, since she didn’t plan on staying this long. 

On the training pitch she was first deployed in her natural position, left back. Then with less than two weeks to go before the AFC Asian Cup qualifying matches in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Madarang was given a go at football’s glamor position: Striker. The rest is history. 

Madarang scored two breathtaking goals in the opening match, a 4-0 rout of the UAE. One was a first-time finish off a center from Sara Castañeda, another a jaw-dropping volley from range. She finished with 4 goals in the 5 matches. (After beating the Emiratis 4-0 the Philippines downed Iraq by the same score, outclassed the Tajiks 8-0, drew Bahrain 1-1 to book their ticket to the next phase, then fell 5-1 to Jordan in the final non-bearing game.)

Her goals broke the ice for the Philippines on a bitterly cold 8 degree celsius evening in Dushanbe, exacerbated by sheets of rain. The conditions were so frigid that some players and assistant coaches wore their hotel bathrobes on the bench for added warmth. (The hotel was reportedly not best pleased by this.) 

Madarang’s favorite footballer is Ronaldhinho, the Barcelona legend. With that finishing, one can see that she is emulates as much as she idolizes him. 

Castañeda has something in common with Madarang; she too was being played out of position. Normally a central midfielder, often with a defensive position, the Lady Archer was given an attacking role under Bautista. The result: a goal in each of the first 4 group games, none more important than her late equalizer against Bahrain that sealed qualification with a match to spare. 

Sara says she never practices volleys of that kind, but she drove it in like a pro. It was only fitting that the score came off an assist from Madarang, returning the favor from the first goal of the campaign.

When told that her strike against Bahrain will likely go down as the greatest in the history of women’s football in the country, Castañeda stared blankly into space, unable to fathom the thought, then blurts out “yay!” 

Amazingly she wasn’t the only member of her family who got on the scoresheet. Younger sister Anicka, a recent high school grad from De La Salle Zobel, hoofed in two ferocious strikes from distance versus Tajikistan.

Sara says Anicka can kick the ball much harder than her, and that her shots tend to knuckle, or wobble in the air, making them that much harder to save.

The elder Castañeda also credits the team’s fitness as a big reason for the triumph. Many of the Philippines-based girls were in midseason condition from both the UAAP and the PFF Women’s League previous to that. Sara explains that because of this there was less need to work on conditioning before the tournament, and that Bautista was able to spend more time on tactics. The coach favored a possession-based style that choked the life out of their opponents. 

For Sara it’s back to the UAAP grind as the undefeated Lady Archers try to stay perfect as the season resumes after this international break. 

Another unsung hero for the team was midfielder Hannah Parado, a 21-year old Jacksonville native who played in her third tournament for the Philippines. Parado was a rock in the middle of the park, helping keep possession. For her, team chemistry was key.

“For this one (tournament), we were more at ease,” she says, probably comparing this tournament with last year’s AFF championship. Parado credits Bautista with growing in her understanding of the culture of the Filipina-Americans. That likely helped bond the team better, a sentiment echoed by defender Claire Lim.

“We get along off the field better, and that helps a lot,” says Lim. 

Evidence of that can be seen in a bottle-flipping contest held on the way home, viewable on the Facebook page of Pinay Futbol’s Mia Montayre. Just scroll down a bit.

Parado will complete her transfer from North Florida University, a Div 1 school, to University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, a Div 2 outfit. While on paper it seems like a downgrade soccer-wise, Parado says she is switching from a Marketing course to Film, which is more to her liking. 

While many of the other USA-based players are hurrying home, Parado will linger until the third week of May, with a full slate of trips planned. She will visit Aurora, Zambales, and Siargao. 

“I grew up beside the beach,” she explains. 

It’s hoped that many of these girls from abroad will also be back in August for the SEA Games women’s football competition, which the Philippines may enter, depending on the deliberations of the PSC and POC. The final stage of the 2018 Women’s AFC Asian Cup also beckons next April, where the team will do battle with the likes of South Korea, Japan and Australia.

The shellacking at the hands of Jordan in the last match was a sobering reminder of how far this team still has to go. According to centerback Dai Dolino, the Jordanians’ discipline and conditioning spelled the difference, plus their superior teamwork. 

Hindi lang isang player ang gumagawa, ang buong team gumagawa.” (It’s not just one player performing, it’s the whole team.) 

But Dolino, an FEU alumni who also scored versus Iraq, is unfazed by the challenge after this newfound jolt of confidence. 

Wala namang imposible.”(Nothing’s impossible.) – 

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.

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