Ex-PHL player endures 23-hour plane journey to back Filipinas in World Cup

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FOR the love of the beautiful game and spending on her own, former national player Miriam Merlin endured a taxing 23-hour plane journey just to show her support for the Filipinas making their debut in the FIFA Women’s World Cup here.

“I am here because  sobrang history, eh. Something na hindi dapat i-miss ng mga sports fans,” Merlin, who once played under the national women’s squad handled by the late revered coach Orlando Plagata, said in a chance interview at a hotel here Thursday.

To save funds, Merlin, who was tapped as the youngest national women’s  team recruit at 17 during the 1993 Philippine National Games in Baguio City,  revealed that she took a flight on budget carrier Air Asia, with stopovers in  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Sydney, Australia, before arriving here.

“I arrived here at 4 o’clock in the afternoon last Wednesday kasi gusto ko makita mag-laro ang Filipinas,” added the former PH player, who is the coach of the muti-titled La Salle-Lipa high school girls squad for the last 25 years and a Grade 9 PE teacher at the institution.  

She showed a copy of her old Philippine Football Federation ID card that she keeps as a treasured memento as proof that she one carried the country’s colors in international play, adding that among her contemporaries was former national women’s coaches Leticia “Buda” Bautista and Lelet Dimzon.

“Lahat kami nag-laro kay sir Plagy. Marami kaming natutunan sa kanya,” said Merlin endearingly of the low-key mentor, who also won several women’s football championships for PUP and  FEU.

Although she was unable to savor success in the regular 11-aside football, she cherished the bronze medal that the national women’s futsal squad  coached by Manny Batungbacal won in the 2007 Thailand Southeast Asian Games in the Thai capital of Bangkok.

That medal remains as the only one that country has garnered in international futsal play.    

Merlin, who was in the process of completing the final grades of her students back home, added that she was able to get permission from her school supervisor to witness the Filipinas in action in the blue-ribbon competition featuring the best world women’s football players.

She was accompanied by her former La Salle-Lipa player, Kathleen de Torres, who now works in this city as a nurse , to the first Group A match between host New Zealand and Norway at the iconic Eden Park on Thursday.

“Nang mapanood ko ang Filipinas manalo ng AFF Women’s Championship last year, dun ako nag-decide na manonood ako ng World Cup at mag-ipon, although may pagtutol yung mga kapatid na umalis,” Melvin, still single at 47, said.

“Gusto ko makita ang hirap ng mga bata. This is the highest level of competition. It is a big honor to be included in the World Cup. So dun pa lang sold-out na ako. Kaya nag-ipon ako kaagad,” she.  explained.   

Although she acknowledged that the Filipinas were facing great odds, Merlin said that the she did not go all the way from the Philippines, which kicks off its Group A drive in Dunedin on Friday, just to see the wards of Australian tactician Alen Stajcic lose.

“Like everyone else back home, we are praying for the best. Definitely it is not an easy task. But we’re praying and hoping that they qualify for the next round. Iyan ang pinag-pray ko last night. One game lang at a time,” she said fervently.

Captions: Former national player Miriam Merlin’s PFF ID as former national player (left) and her present ID as a PE school teacher at La Salle-Lipa.

Merlin with her former Las Salle-Lipa player Kathleen de Torres.  

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