Villaflor: Moving on with the Malditas

Noel S. Villaflor

IT was painful to watch the feisty Malditas crash out of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup and lose in the fifth place playoff for a slot in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The Philippine Women’s National Team lost 5-0 to a better, faster and more skilled South Korean squad yesterday early morning in Amman, Jordan. The Philippines is ranked 72 by FIFA while South Korea is ranked 16.

The gulf in class between the two teams was apparent, and the numbers are even more telling. The Malditas, who seemed to have run out of gas midway through the second half, could hardly latch on to the ball and managed only 24 percent of possession. There was no letup in the Korean assault that created 26 shots, 10 of which were on goal. The Malditas managed two shots, none of which were on target.

The Philippines started the tournament with promise, edging hosts Jordan (51) with a 2-1 upset, before getting thrashed 3-0 by China (17), and bowing 3-1 to Thailand (30) in the match that decided who gets an Asian Cup semis berth and a ticket to the World Cup in France.

It seems that the Philippine women’s team is light years away from catching up with the big guns of Asian football. That’s the case right now, but there’s always reason to remain optimistic. As what I’ve written in the previous column, the Malditas are a young team, with an average age of 22 among its starters. That means they have three years to mature as a team in time for the quadrennial Asian Cup, qualification rounds and all.

The challenge, therefore, is how to keep the key players intact and for them to play more football on Philippine soil, the way the core players of the men’s team stay fit and competitive by way of the national league.

The Philippines Football League may be facing serious challenges right now, but its mere existence is showing dividends for the national men’s team, most of whom are now Philippine-based. The league’s top clubs get to represent the country in regional club competitions, and it helps raise the level of their game.

At this level, it makes sense logistically for national teams to hold regular camps on home soil, which doesn’t seem to be the case for the Malditas, many of whom either play in collegiate leagues or are “unattached” but are still based abroad. The Chinese, South Koreans and even the Thais have their own top-level women’s leagues where most of their national team players are sourced. (And the next logical step for women’s football is holding international club competitions, which is what the world’s governing body is trying to do with the planned FIFA Women’s Club World Cup.) The good thing is that there actually is a PFF Women’s League, which was formed only two years ago. Like its defunct counterpart the United Football League, the fledgling women’s league is based in Manila. But this is a good start, perhaps, to attract foreign-based Malditas to ply their trade here, much like what the PFL does (and the UFL before that).

For the Philippines to really make strides in global football, the women’s league needs to be strengthened and sustained. Besides, what’s the point of having a grassroots program for girls when there’s no top-tier league of their own to play in when they reach the peak of their footballing lives?