THE PINAY BOOTERS spent a good part of 2022 and 2023 honing their craft in camps in Australia, Tajikistan, Spain, Chile and US and playing against top-caliber sides like Sweden to get World Cup battle-ready. — PILIPINASWNFT

Match Friday
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin)
5 p.m. (1 p.m. Manila time) —
Philippines vs Switzerland

WORLD, meet the Filipinas.

The dreamers who never stopped believing that nothing is impossible in the beautiful game make their awaited bow as bona fide FIFA Women’s World Cup (WC) competitors today.

When the clock strikes 5 p.m. in chilly Dunedin in New Zealand’s South Island (1 p.m. Manila time), the dream becomes a reality for the gritty Filipinas as they share the pitch with Switzerland in a history-carving game for Philippine football.

“I’ve always known that I was going to see this (Philippines in the WC) one day in my life but I didn’t know I’ll be able to live it, breathe it, struggle through it, love it like I am right now,” Hali Long, the most seasoned player among the Filipinas, said yesterday in underscoring the game’s significance.

It’s a milestone moment as the “Lupang Hinirang” is played for the first time and a team from the football minnows Philippines takes the field in the prestigious football extravaganza.

But getting the result against the world No. 20 La Nati should make it even more special for the 46th-ranked Filipinas.

“We want to win,” Ms. Long said with conviction during the pre-match press conference.

“Obviously we’re the underdog. Being Filipino, I would say, in every sport, we’re the underdog but it’s kind of we’re we thrive. We love to punch above our weight, punch through the ceiling and we’ve constantly done that the past 18 months to get to where we are now,” she added.

The Pinay booters spent a good part of 2022 and 2023 honing their craft in camps in Australia, Tajikistan, Spain, Chile and US and playing against top-caliber sides like Sweden to get WC battle-ready.

“Since we qualified (in January 2022), it’s been almost from ground zero to full throttle,” said coach Alen Stajcic.

“We got to fast-track all that development into a year-and-a-half and it’s tough. But I know we go into the starting line of every game thinking and believing. And we’ve done everything we can to be confident we’ve prepared well and have that belief.”

Mr. Stajcic, a former Australia Matildas coach, has assembled a crack team for this seize-the-moment campaign led by strikers Sarina Bolden and Katrina Guillou, midfielders Tahnai Annis and Quinley Quezada, defenders Angie Beard and Long and goalkeepers Olivia McDaniel and Kiara Fontanilla.

Notes: The Filipinas and other contingents woke up to the news of a shooting incident in a construction site yesterday morning in Auckland’s Central Business District, where three people were killed, including the shooter. Thankfully, the Philippine delegation went about their business without a hitch and boarded their scheduled flight out of Auckland into Dunedin safe and sound. “It was difficult but we’re in really good hands here. All the teams are really well taken care of. We have our security officer and we do what we’re told,” said Hali Long. New Zealand authorities and the FIFA said the incident was unrelated to the World Cup and reported that additional security measures were put in place. The shooting happened a few hours before host New Zealand and Norway were to open the tournament at Auckland’s Eden Park. — Olmin Leyba