June 13, 2024

There's no reason not to strongly root for the Filipinas—even if you don't watch football

Art by Royce Nicdao

Can you name five players from the women's national football team of the Philippines?

You can't? Don't worry. That's perfectly fine. 

None of us knew who Hidilyn Diaz was before either. Or Alyssa Valdez. Heck, or even Manny Pacquiao, when he was still a blonde-haired, skin-and-bones, quick-punching firecracker from General Santos City who cried when his father ate his pet dog.

They didn't just burst into national consciousness out of nowhere like a supernova. They trained. They failed. They toiled. They endured. Ad infinitum. And eventually, they won. Many times.

But it took time. Everything worthwhile takes stubborn patience and complete surrender.

Now, it's the turn of the country's lady booters, known as the Filipinas, to get their names out there. At least in the archipelago. It's a start.

For at least three games this month (hopefully, there will be more), the Filipinas, making a historic stint in the FIFA Women's World Cup, should be the axis where the nation orbits. When the entire Philippines has a collective pulse. Beating for every kick, save, dive, and slide. 

The Filipinas have the enviable opportunity to shock the universe in the FIFA Women's World Cup—only the biggest tournament in all of sports. The odds are realistically bleak. But so what? There have been a myriad of upsets in the history of the contest. Check please, we'll take that 1% chance. Is it false hope? Maybe. But hope, nonetheless. 

Besides, isn't that the beauty of sports? Giving a chance to the overmatched to defy what's already seemingly premeditated. Pacquiao-Barrera. Hidilyn in Tokyo. Breaking the Curse of Korea. Heartstrong Ateneo in 2014. Pride, Puso, Palaban UST in 2006. The Miracle of Hanoi. "Bal David, spins, fires...WHOOOOOOOOOGHDFJHDGFEGD!!!!" 

"Sports is unscripted drama. You never know who will win as even the most favored teams could have a bad day or an injured player. Or the athlete or team least likely to win will have a great day. That’s why we watch because the unexpected could happen," said longtime sportscaster Sev Sarmenta.

All of those aforementioned fairytale stories, along with so many others, are eternally inscribed in the lore of Philippine sports. We don't even have to describe them in detail. If you know, you know. Legends were born. Careers were made. Stories were immortalized. The images, narratives, and emotions from those milestone moments will resonate forever. Because those athletes and teams were all given a chance. And now, we need to give the Filipinas that. Let's allow them to stun us as a nation.  

If we gave man-buns a chance, if we gave Iron Man 2 a chance, if we gave Dalgona Coffee a chance, if we gave IV of Spades without Unique a chance, hell, if we gave a late dictator's son a chance, why not the Filipinas? Just go watch. Really. Even if for only 10 minutes (picking something to watch on Netflix takes longer). Something magical might happen. If it's still not for you, then it's not for you. That's understandable. But please, find it in your heart to at least—big word coming up—try. 

Malay niyo, magustuhan niyo pala.

BTW, the Filipinas' games will air live on free TV

Admittedly, football is not an easy sell for Filipinos. The sport is not woven into the tapestry of the Philippines, where basketball is the fourth branch of the government. We're used to a lot of instantaneous action. To sing and dance. To pomp and circumstance. Football can be a slow burn. A nil-nil score is always possible. But its growth, especially the women's game, is being felt in the country. And the Filipinas are at the forefront of that, inspiring kids to pick up the beautiful game and believe that they too can reach lofty goals. It also helps that the Filipinas are on the crest of a global wave that's only growing bigger. In the previous FIFA Women's World Cup in 2019, a record-breaking 1.12 billion viewers tuned into the official broadcast. That's almost 10 times the whole population of the Philippines.

The idea of the Filipinas notching a win in their first foray on the world stage might be at loggerheads with the pundits' prognostications, but that's exactly how it should be. Right? Eff your advanced analytics! As the Filipinas' media officer Cedelf Tupas perfectly put it: "Keep making noise until they listen!"

We're also going to say this: The Filipinas are easy on the eyes too. They're beautiful. They're cute. They're charming. If their looks could be the impetus to entice more supporters, why not? Recognizing their football skills will naturally follow suit. Their cultural mix of different features, being the offspring of the Filipino diaspora, is wonderful to look at. And that's also worth celebrating. It's a testament to the Filipino heritage. The blood is strong on this one. 

Then of course, there's their kinetic beauty on the pitch. Their gracefulness and athleticism. Their balletic contortions. The dazzling masterstrokes. The stunning saves. The satisfying accidental choreography when they all start to run at the same time. Their set pieces are both nerve-wracking and exquisite. Their defense is physical yet pretty. There's almost a crazy-beautiful aspect to the style of the Filipinas. 

And oh, they're fun tooCheck them out on TikTok

The Filipinas have done their part—and are continuing to do so. Now, it's our turn to do ours and squeeze even just an infinitesimal amount of patriotism out of our periodically disenchanted souls and help them earn the R-E-S-P-E-C-T of everyone else. 

You don't have to know the difference between a free kick and a penalty kick. Or what extra time is. Or the jersey number of Sarina Bolden. Or how many goals Quinley Quezada has. Or the height of Katrina Gulliou. Or the foreign club of Tahnai Annis. Or where Anicka Castañeda was born. Or the favorite color of Olivia McDaniel. Again, you don't even have to know all of their names for now. What you need to know is this: You don't want to miss out when the Filipinas make history.

They're here. They're good. They're worth rooting for.

They're not just an underdog story. They're the story, period.