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Tiebreaker Times


Women’s Football pioneer endures 23-hour flight to back Filipinas

AUCKLAND – Driven by her unwavering love for the beautiful game and fueled by her own determination, former national player Miriam Merlin embarked on a challenging 23-hour plane journey to show her unwavering support for the Filipinas as they made their historic debut in the FIFA Women’s World Cup here.

“I am here because sobrang history, eh. Something na hindi dapat i-miss ng mga sports fans,” Merlin, who once played under the national women’s squad handled by the late revered coach Orlando Plagata, said in a chance interview at a hotel here Thursday.

In a bid to save on expenses, Merlin revealed that she opted for a flight with budget carrier Air Asia, with stopovers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Sydney, Australia, before finally arriving in Auckland.

“I arrived here at 4 o’clock in the afternoon last Wednesday kasi gusto ko makita mag-laro ang Filipinas,” added the former PH player, who has been coaching the multi-titled La Salle-Lipa high school girls squad for the past 25 years and is also a Grade 9 PE teacher at the institution.

She proudly showed her old Philippine Football Federation ID card, which she cherishes as a treasured memento, serving as proof that she once represented the country in international play.

Among her contemporaries were former national women’s coaches Leticia “Buda” Bautista and Lelet Dimzon.

“Lahat kami nag-laro kay Sir Plagy. Marami kaming natutunan sa kanya,” said Merlin endearingly of the low-key mentor, who also won several women’s football championships for PUP and FEU.

While her 11-aside football career may not have seen significant triumphs, she treasures the bronze medal earned by the national women’s futsal squad, coached by Manny Batungbacal, during the 2007 Thailand Southeast Asian Games in Bangkok.

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To this day, that medal remains the country’s sole achievement in international futsal play.

Despite her responsibilities back home, including completing the final grades of her students, Merlin obtained permission from her school supervisor to witness the Filipinas in action against the world’s best women’s football players in the blue-ribbon competition.

Accompanied by her former La Salle-Lipa player, Kathleen de Torres, now working as a nurse in Auckland, Merlin attended the first Group A match between host New Zealand and Norway at the iconic Eden Park on Thursday.

“Nang mapanood ko ang Filipinas manalo ng AFF Women’s Championship last year, dun ako nag-decide na manonood ako ng World Cup at mag-ipon, although may pagtutol yung mga kapatid na umalis,” Melvin, still single at 47, said.

“Gusto ko makita ang hirap ng mga bata. This is the highest level of competition. It is a big honor to be here in the World Cup. So dun pa lang sold na ako. Kaya nag-ipon ako kaagad.”

Acknowledging the tough challenges that the Filipinas face, Merlin emphasized that she didn’t travel all the way from the Philippines, where their Group A journey begins in Dunedin on Friday, just to witness Australian tactician Alen Stajcic’s team lose.

“Like everyone else back home, we’re praying for the best.”

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