The Philippine Women’s National Team at the 2023 FIFA World Cup was nothing short of magical. Sarina Bolden was at the forefront, scoring the country’s first goal on the world stage in a win against host New Zealand. And while the Nationals, ranked 46th in the world, would bow out to Switzerland (20th) and Norway (12th), Bolden and Co. are immortalized in Filipino football history– both for the win and proving that the tiny island nation has a place among the world’s juggernauts.
@onesportsphl HERSTORIC GOAL! 🇵🇭😤 Golden moment for Sarina Bolden after giving the Filipinas their first-ever GOAL in the FIFA Women's World Cup! #FIFAWWC #BeyondGreatness ♬ original sound – OneSportsPHL
Historic football moments are few and far between for the Philippines, a country still madly in love with hoop dreams. Local fans would point to Iloilo-born Paulino Alcantara, who became a star for Barcelona in the early 1900s. It’s then no surprise that die-hards and casuals lost their collective minds with Sarina Bolden’s goal. But for the 27-year-old, the moment took a while to sink in.
“I knew how fragile a one-nil lead meant. Our focus was just to hang on. So I did, but I also didn’t,” chuckled Sarina on whether she knew she made history. “It wasn’t until days later when I was getting the overwhelming messages of love and support, and even coming here to Manila that I realized how huge it was.”
The rather minute reaction to such an epic feat is on par with Sarina’s character; charismatic, but not loud, confident, but not a show-off. It’s this mix of calm and steady demeanor that the rising athlete banks on to lead the future of Filipino women’s football and beyond.
Complex PH caught up with Sarina Bolden on the team’s World Cup run, her approach to naysayers, and bigger dreams for the sport.
Can you give us a play-by-play of your World Cup goal?
I approached the group stage matchup against New Zealand as just another game (though obviously, it wasn’t) – calm and patiently waiting for the right opportunity.
I recall the toughness of New Zealand, coming at us with everything they had. A foul near the halfway line instituted the set piece, as the ball dribbled out a bit due to an unsuccessful clearance. Sara (Eggesvik) got a good cross as I converted her assist with a header.
Looking back, I didn’t realize the three defenders in the box, as two were really tight on me. It wasn’t an easy thing. Everything had to go right, though we were able to brave the defense and capitalize on the opportunity.
Was there a bigger feeling of determination due to the prior loss to Switzerland?
Yes, absolutely. That was the message after the loss: This next contest against New Zealand dictated our survival in the tournament. Once you lose two straight games in a group of four, then you’re done.
But we played them in a friendly exhibition months before our matchup, so we knew we had a fighting chance. Considering we had to overcome two strong European nations (Norway and Switzerland), I felt we could get something out of our matchup against New Zealand.
What was your childhood like, and did any of it translate to how you approach football? Were there any values/traits you picked up over the years?
My dad is a huge component of how I am as a footballer. The hours of training, the dedication to the sport, and learning the skills and fundamental values of working hard, sacrificing, and being diligent in my craft.
My mom’s work ethic is crucial—having my parents balancing blue collared jobs while supporting my dream. She’s the number one woman I look up to because of her dedication to providing for her family, and I hope to emulate these traits in football.
My main thing also as a player is to keep learning and growing. You’re never too old to do so.
How did you find your way to the Philippines Women’s National Team?
Around my sophomore-junior year in college, the Nationals came to the United States in Southern California.
At the time, my assistant coach at my college, Loyola Marymount University, was acquainted with the head coach of the Philippine National Team. During an away trip, he mentioned working with the national squad, which piqued my interest in possibly coming to a tryout in Corona, California.
He spoke to the coach, and luckily enough, the venue was a couple of hours away from where I lived in Los Angeles at the time. At the event, several girls were in the same situation as me—hailing from different backgrounds. Several of them from this team today came from that very camp.
What is your reaction to critics who downplay your moment because you’re “not Filipino,” considering your Californian roots, or because you don’t reside in the Philippines?
The one thing that I would just counter to this perception is that throughout my whole experience of being part of the national team—traveling to over 20 countries across six continents, Filipinos are everywhere. This team is a great representation of who Filipinos are.
Yes, there are people born and raised in the Philippines, but there are those who aren’t but are just as proud, loving, and accepting of being Filipino.
That’s okay that they feel like that, they’re entitled to their opinion, but I don’t think that makes us less Filipino.
How did the World Cup run impact the chemistry between your teammates as you depart for your international clubs?
We aren’t exactly dispersing, as we’ve got several tournaments lined up—such as the 2023 Asian Games and the second round of qualifiers for the 2024 Olympics. We’re unified, whether in person or spirit, but girls definitely need a break (laughs). We’ve been committed to this journey for almost two years.
Our experience as sisters is difficult to comprehend, as we’ve “trauma bonded,” so to speak, going through the highs and lows. It’s given us a unique perspective on things, and we’ll share the experience for the rest of our lives. It will keep us close no matter what, no matter where anyone goes. But we’re still sticking together, having more things to look forward to.
How does the recent departure of team manager Alen Stajcic affect the program’s future?
I’ve got nothing but praise for Alen Stajcic—an amazing coach and person. To sum him up, he’s hard but honest. He’s shaped this team and given us a great foundation to build upon, grow, and continue to learn. I’ve grown so much as a soccer player and as an individual.
The things that he’s taught this team for me were confidence, backing yourself, fighting for what’s right, and always going into things with a plan.
I think I speak on behalf of the team on this, but we wish him the best of luck. It’s sad to see him go, moving to the A-League in Australia, though we’re honored to be a part of his extensive resume, as we know only great things are bound for him in the future.
His guidance will propel us forward, no matter what.
How do you see the country’s love for the sport growing in the future?
First and foremost, I think it will draw people’s interest in the sport. It would open more avenues, especially for females who dream of competing on the world stage. Football is truly global—similar to what I was saying about Filipinos being everywhere.
If you can acquire a makeshift ball and posts, you have football. I see kids in the streets without shoes and gear, but people play it because of the fun and their pure love for the game, and that’s where it starts.
I hope our World Cup run also draws interest from patrons who see the impact we’ve done and invest in the future of the sport. Women’s football is growing globally, and there are hopes for a professional league in the Philippines. I do hope it happens because there’s a lot of talent.
What role does Sarina Bolden play in the future of Philippine Football?
People seem to consider me a role model (even if I don’t), but I’ll gladly take it and wear that proudly.
I hope I pose as an example of the hard work, dedication, and the lengths a female-Asian footballer could go to. I’m sure I’ll make mistakes along the way, but I hope I’ll have a lot more success and a positive impact.
No matter what, I want people to know that I have a good heart and I’m doing this for them. I love football, as it has brought me to places I wouldn’t have imagined in my lifetime.
I’m grateful to represent the country and do what I love, and I hope people follow along our journey. I’m fighting for the people of the Philippines, especially those who’ve supported us since day one.