The Philippine Women’s National Football Team’s dream to reach the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand almost came to a dramatic halt in its first hurdle.
Down one goal to Nepal in its inaugural 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualification fixture in Uzbekistan last Saturday, the Filipinas needed to pull off late heroics in the last five minutes of the match to seal a priceless 2-1 win and protect their dream of making it into the World Cup.
“I felt grateful for the opportunity to be on the pitch once again with the team,” said Tahnai Annis, the midfielder who scored the leveler in stoppage time to deliver the light at the end of the tunnel for the Philippines.
“Nepal scored early in the game and it was unfortunate, but I knew there was time in the game and that there was no reason to panic or let any negativity enter my mind.”
Philippines coach Marlon Maro shared post-game that with Nepal playing on the defensive, he essentially ordered only three players to stay in defense while four forwards and three attacking midfielders persevered to find the breakthrough. Ultimately, the adjustments worked and the country survived to fight another day.
“Halftime was short and to the point. We needed to keep putting them under pressure and be patient in the attack,” said the 5-foot-1 midfielder.
“Continuing to push more numbers forward as time went on in the match was the adjustment made so that we could keep the ball in their half and create as many opportunities as possible to give us the greatest chances of scoring.”
Annis, who last played for the country in the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, converted the country’s first goal when she converted a cross from the right flank by Chandler McDaniel. Her strike then set the tone as Camille Wilson struck the winner soon after.
“I felt some redemption because earlier in the first half I had missed a previous opportunity that would have tied the game, so to be able to have another chance at goal I knew I couldn’t let that one get past me,” said the 32-year-old.
“I knew that when making a run into the penalty area that I needed to hit one of three marks — front post, far post, or down the middle. I made sure to be there when Chandler crossed it and the ball found my path. It was a major relief to get the equalizer to still give us a fighting chance in the match.”
While the job is not done yet for the PWNT, they still have to get a good result against Hong Kong on Friday, winning against Nepal is a big achievement considering the less than ideal preparations for the team beforehand.
Not enough friendly matches were established and most of the players haven’t kicked a ball competitively for such a long time.
“This team has always had its fair share of adversity so Covid, while it may be something the team hasn’t faced before, it really is just another form of adversity, and this team has experience and is very resilient when faced with challenges that are outside of our control,” said the Florida Gators alumna.
With Nepal and Hong Kong drawing 0-0 yesterday, the Filipinas only need a draw against the latter on Friday to secure a ticket to the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup in India. However, Annis and her teammates will go for the win and to end their journey on a high note.
“I think we feel a good level of momentum going into the next game. We will make adjustments as needed, but we also know that if we win this upcoming game then we qualify for the next round. Knowing that is enough motivation to be ready and excited for the game on Friday,” said the Ohio native.
“I would like to leave this campaign with the team feeling cohesive on the field and to have formed some kind of identity that we can build off of moving forward into the next campaigns whichever ones they may be.”