SportsPalacios leads the Philippines in AFF Women’s Championship
Palacios leads the Philippines in AFF Women’s Championship

With all the buzz coming from the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, there has been a lot of talk about the success of many Filipino athletes who have been representing the country in recent months. Social media has been alive with news regarding both the highs and lows these athletes experience, all of which have nevertheless captivated the hearts of the Filipino people.

Yet aside from the more popular tournaments such as the SEA Games, the Philippines was also represented in the Asian Football Federation (AFF) Cup last May. Led by Lasallian goalkeeper Inna Kristianne Palacios, who acted as the team captain and starting goalkeeper, the Philippines was placed in Group B, along with Myanmar, Malaysia, and this year’s host country, Vietnam.

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File photo: Palacios and the DLSU Women’s Football Team after their UAAP match-up against UST last November 30.

New year, new team

Hoping to bring more pride to the nation, the Philippine Women’s Football Team entered the 2015 AFF Women’s Championship with a new squad built on youth. Half of the women’s team currently play in the UAAP, with UST and FEU tied for having the most number of active players on the team, which was coached by Leticia Bautista and assistant coaches Marnelli Dimzon and Patrice Impelido.

The squad’s first match was against Malaysia, whom they trounced with a score of 3-0. The team showed real promise as they dominated the match against the Malaysian squad. It was Canadian-Filipino striker Jesse Shugg who gave the Philippines the lead in the 23rd minute, while Filipino-American Joana Houplin sealed the game with a goal in the 72nd and 75th minutes of the match.

This victory was short-lived however, as the Philippine team succumbed to Myanmar in a 4-1 loss. After taking the lead in the first half courtesy of Houplin’s penalty shot, Myanmar striker Wer Phaw got the better of keeper Palacios to score the equalizer early in the second half. Phaw didn’t stop there as she scored her second goal three minutes later and assisted fellow striker Khin Moe Wai with another goal, extending their lead to 3-1. To seal the match, Phaw snatched her third goal, thus completing her hat trick to put Myanmar up by three goals, 4-1.

With two games down, the Philippines then faced off with Vietnam in a crucial match that determined their fate in the tournament. Unfortunately for them, the Vietnamese team went on a flurry during the first half to take a 4-0 lead, courtesy of a hat trick by Minh Nguyet and a goal by Vu Thi Thung. This deficit proved to be too much for the Philippines to overcome and the game ended with a final score of 4-0. This loss turned out to be the end of the road for the team as they exited the group in third place with one win and two losses.

 

From UAAP to the world stage

Representing both the University and the Philippines, Palacios can say that her years of dedication and passion for the sport have paid dividends in her young football career. The 21-year-old goalkeeper has been a part of the national program since 2008 in the under-19 squad and has had a taste of the action in the seniors’ team in her brief stint in 2009.

“The recent tournament was good. That was the first time I played for the national team again. I had a fractured shin in 2013 so I wasn’t able to join [the team] in [the] SEA games,” the two-time UAAP Best Goalkeeper awardee said. “It felt pretty good. It was nice seeing my old teammates again and having new players as well. Most of the members of the squad are home-based. The girls had fun naman. We all gave our best [in] every training and every game.”

Former DLSU players were also present in the tournament, namely, Marielle Benitez, Natasha Alquiros, and Samantha Nierras. When asked about her relationship with the older Lasallians, Palacios commented, “They’re probably the people I grew up with in the national team. They were always there to guide me. I always turn to them when I’m hesitant about something or when something’s bothering me. Also, they’re all good players. Even though I wasn’t able to play with them in DLSU, at least I had the chance to be teammates with them in representing our country.”

In Season 77, Palacios won the Best Goalkeeper Award for the second time as she helped the Taft-based squad improve to a fourth-place finish. Entering her last year of eligibility, an individual award is the last thing on Palacios’ mind.

“It was just too much for me to even explain because I was struggling with an injury in the latter part of the tournament that I had to miss a game,” she mentions. “I really didn’t expect it. I just feel really blessed and happy. But getting that award was the least of my priorities. My goal in every game is just to play my best, to give my best. It does pay off in the end.”

Playing against higher-caliber players in the international stage, Palacios shared that the most important skill that she had learned in the tournament was being able to cope with high pressure situations and keeping her composure for the whole 90-minute stretch. Palacios added that the experience and confidence she gained in the tournament will definitely be beneficial to her come Season 78.

A total of four players from La Salle were invited to try out for the team, although Palacios’ teammates Ange Metillo, Irish Navaja and Kyla Inquig were not able to join the squad for various reasons.