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Double celebration for PWNFT’s birthday girl Hali Long

On the day she turned 27 years old, Hali Long will forever cherish it as one of the most important days in her football career.

It is one thing to celebrate another year with close friends and family, it is another to be part of a totally historic moment such as helping the Philippines beat Thailand for the first time with a 1-0 victory in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022.

“It was a very surreal moment when they blew the final whistle because I’ve been playing them since I joined in 2016 my very first campaign in Myanmar,” reflected the University of Arkansas at Little Rock alumna who almost listed herself on the scoresheet in the first half with a half chance. “We played them and I think it was like 4-0 so we’ve always, in the past, when I’ve been on the team, it’s always been very close.

“We even got to a point where we were ahead at some points and we still didn’t win those games.”

Long was one of the country’s key defenders throughout the whole contest against the Thais.

Considering the Philippines conceded 14 goals in its last four games against Thailand, to keep a clean sheet in itself was an outstanding achievement on its own even if Chandler McDaniel’s 81st-minute goal did not arrive.

2022-Womens-Asian-Cup-Philippines-vs-Thailand-Hali-Long-2 Double celebration for PWNFT's birthday girl Hali Long Football News Philippine Malditas  - philippine sports news

Photo from AFC

“I think defensively, we were just aggressive in our defense,” said the 5-foot-8 center back. “Once we broke them down in one aspect, the rest follows because we were defending as a unit. I think that’s just the discipline that the coaches have been instilling in us since day one with them.

“That really showed true on the field yesterday.”

To emphasize how impressive the Filipinas’ defensive game was last night, it was anchored on the partnership between Long and newcomer Dominique Randle.

#ReadMore  Stajcic says all credit in Women's Asian Cup should go to Annis, PWNFT

It is always hard to develop a center-back partnership especially in a short tournament with high stakes such as the Asian Cup. But Randle and Long are enjoying every moment of it.

“Playing with Dom is fun,” explained the Missouri native. “When she came to tryouts, I thought she was like a young gun and all that stuff but we had a recovery at the beach one day and we were just walking along and I found out we’re the same age and just a little bit more of her background… But in our positions, we’ve been able to bond during the course of these two months.

“Even here in the tournament, I’m just getting to know her and creating that off-the-field bond I think plays a big part in our performance and just kinda like after trainings, we talk about how we feel, what was our strength during that day, our weaknesses and we always found a way to balance that out between us. Just because she is new on the team last night at her debut doesn’t mean that I wasn’t learning from her because I was,” she continued.

“The confidence she had stepping up and winning balls out of the air, just being as physical as she could, it definitely made me play the same way and I think it inspired (our) teammates to play the same way too.”

Perhaps, though, this win could not have happened without the arrival of coach Alen Stajcic and his staff or personnel of their caliber. S

Stajcic led his home nation of Australia to win in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics and such a standard is needed to substantially raise the level of Philippine football higher than where it currently is.2022-AFC-Asian-Womens-Cup-Philippines-def-Thailand-Alan-Stajcic Double celebration for PWNFT's birthday girl Hali Long Football News Philippine Malditas  - philippine sports news

#ReadMore  Rodriguez picks up another brace as Philippines nears historic AFF semis berth

“Obviously, (Stajcic) brings a lot of experience and knowledge to Philippine football,” said Long. “We all went in with a pretty open and blank sheet to this campaign basically so he can mold us how he wanted and if we can execute – and I think we did.

“I think that just proves that with good investment in women’s football – you can get results out of that.”

With Australia on the horizon, Long fully understands that she is going to be at 100 percent to stop the juggernaut that lies ahead.

Powered by Chelsea forward Sam Kerr, who scored five goals in an 18-0 drubbing of Indonesia, the Filipinas need is understandably heavy underdogs again.

Despite that, they are looking forward to testing themselves against one of the world’s best teams.

“I am nervous.

“Of course, I’d be nervous but we just have to rise to the occasion and give it our best and walk off the field on Monday knowing that I did everything I could and whatever the scoreline may be, whatever the result may be, if I have little wins throughout that game, I’ll take it,” she admitted.

Whatever happens in the next matches, the win over Thailand will live long in the memory. While it is always nice to live in the moment, when it comes to sports, a positive outcome should merely be a building block to something bigger.

For now, let this be a precursor for slaying more giants down the line towards actualizing that World Cup dream.

“So this was huge for Philippine football, for Philippine women’s football. It was very historical for us but it’s just another stepping stone on a very progressive path we have if we can continue it.”

What a fantastic birthday indeed.

Written By

Lorenzo's a frustrated author who knows a thing or two about Football and Basketball. Went all green from Ortigas to Taft. Supports Liverpool FC, FC Bayern Munich and the Alaska Aces

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