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U17 Filipinas bow out of Asian Cup, but future looks bright

BALI, INDONESIA — The Philippines' campaign in the AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup came to a heartbreaking end as the young Filipinas could only muster a 1-1 draw against South Korea in the final group stage match.

Needing a win to progress to the semifinals, coach Sinisa Cohadzic fielded a strong Starting XI, with Nat Collins partnering the returning Alexa Pino up front and Nina Mathelus on the left wing.

Left with no choice but to go for victory, the Philippines started the game strong as the young Filipinas took the game to South Korea from the onset.

A series of early Philippine corners brought no results, and a defensive error almost led to a South Korean goal in the 23rd minute.

On the other end, Alexa Pino, who shone brightly and was a constant menace in the first half, had a shot hit the post in the 30th minute.

Showing improvement from their previous game against North Korea, the Philippines tried successfully to impose their physicality and won the 50/50 balls in midfield.

The Philippines would finally get a goal in the 37th minute off of an Ari Markey corner which curled into the goal, giving the Philippines a one goal lead at the half.

Facing elimination, South Korea made three changes at the half and duly threw everything forward in the second 45 minutes, coming on strong as they searched for the equalizer that would take them through to the semis.

However, the turning point of the match, was the substitution for South Korea of highly touted Casey Phair.

Sixteen-year-old Phair, who plays in NWSL’s Angel City, is the youngest player in FIFA Women’s World Cup history and her introduction midway through the second half would pave the way for South Korea to equalize in controversial circumstances.

In the 74th minute, Phair seemed to drag down Filipinas defender Aiselyn Sia, but the referee let play continue and the South Koreans were fastest to the loose ball, scoring to level the scoreline.

With South Korea on the ascendancy, it was going to be tough for the Philippines to get the winner and the game would end with the young Filipinas in tears.

Cohadzic was diplomatic about the result.

“It's a proud moment to be able to play against South Korea in such a tight game and to be honest, we probably should have won in the end, but it wasn't to be”, said Cohadzic.

“We had a game plan, we were very organized in many moments of the game. We wanted to press, we wanted to play zonally. We knew in every moment of the game what we wanted, and it's nearly paid off.”

“Ultimately, [undone by] that unlucky goal which is probably a little bit questionable, but again, it is what it is. We just move on.”

The girls will feel hard from the result, but can take great heart in the tournament, especially in the way they bounced back from the loss to North Korea last Thursday.

Goalkeeper Bri Baker may be the first to admit she was far from her best last time out against North Korea but she duly made amends in this do-or-die match against South Korea, where the 17-year-old made crucial saves time and again. 

In the end, it was a draw that really felt like a loss. It was also a proverbial tale of two halves, with the Philippines unable to sustain a strong start and South Korea essentially imposing their will in the second half.

The nature of the elimination – going out on goal difference – is never the easiest to swallow, most especially as the Philippines could have qualified had they been more clinical in the first group stage match against Indonesia.

But, to paraphrase the cliché, the future is bright for the U17 Filipinas and the Philippine women’s football program.

“Thirteen of them will stay in this age group which is another great bonus for these group of players”, said Cohadzic.

“Many of these girls will go U20s level and some of them are already in the seniors setup, so this is already setup for us to improve as we go forward.”

“It all comes down for us developing these girls to play in the senior national team and what we've seen in this tournament is that these girls can compete in this level and that is just going to make us a better national team going forward.”

There were some questions about future of Philippines’ Women’s National Team after 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but after these three games, I think that question has been answered.

As we’ve seen in the last week, with continued support and the right program in place, the future of women’s football is secure.

—JKC, GMA Integrated News