Tuesday 08 March 2022, 06:00

Sister act spurs Philippines’ World Cup fairy tale

  • US-born McDaniel sisters proved instrumental as Philippines qualified for their first FIFA Women's World Cup

  • Chandler struck vital goals and Olivia pulled off fine saves en route to progression

  • They spoke with FIFA.com about the significance of qualifying and their hopes for 2023

The Philippines recently qualified for their first-ever FIFA Women's World Cup™, and this historic achievement was at least partly indebted to two American-born sisters. The younger McDaniel sibling, 24-year-old Chandler, proved to be a potent attacking weapon for the Malditas during last September's 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifiers. First, she provided two assists as Alen Stajcic's side came from behind to beat Nepal 2-1 and then, against Hong Kong, she went one better by scoring the match-winning goal that sent her team through. In the ensuing continental finals this January, which doubled as the preliminaries for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Australia/New Zealand™, Chandler excelled once again, kick-starting the Philippines’ campaign by breaking the deadlock in their opening match against Thailand. Sister Olivia, meanwhile - the team’s No1 goalkeeper – produced a series of even more eye-catching displays between the sticks. The elder McDaniel sibling emerged the heroine of their penalty shootout victory against Chinese Taipei in the quarter-final, making two brilliant saves before converting a spot-kick herself as the Philippines secured their ticket to Australia and New Zealand 2023.

"Even before this game, I kept saying to myself, 'We are going to win'," Olivia, four months older than Chandler, told FIFA.com. "I prayed before and after each spot-kick. Even when we missed two penalties, I believed we could come out on top. I had faith. "This was the first time the Philippines had made it to a FIFA World Cup, for either men's and women's teams. After the celebrations were done, I just stood on the field and had a sigh of relief. It was then I began to realise what we had achieved." "This is something the country has been trying to achieve for the past decade and half," echoed Chandler. "There have been so many people in the background who have dedicated so much to get this team to this level. All the players, past and present, have always committed themselves to making this team better."

Philippines goalkeeper Olivia McDaniel celebrates with teammates after sealing maiden qualification for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Australia/New Zealand

California dreams come true

For Chandler, reaching the FIFA Women’s World Cup also represented the realisation of a childhood dream. Born in California to a Filipino mother, the sisters inherited their passion for the game from their father. "Our family is very close and we all play soccer,” Chandler explained. “My dad coached me, my sister and brother. I was little and not fast, so my dad taught me skills like ball control, kicking the ball correctly and first touch." The sisters made fast progress and both had the opportunity to play in competitive leagues. Chandler was even invited to Olympic Development Programs and ID2 camps, as well as US National Team ID Camps. It was around this time that she began dreaming big. "I remember in eighth grade, we were asked to do a project about what we wanted to accomplish in the future,” she recalled. “I did mine on playing professional football and making it to the Women's World Cup one day. My teacher told me it was a good dream but also a hard one and, in the end, unrealistic if I was representing a small country like the Philippines." Undeterred, Chandler and her sister set about defying such doubts. "My family tend to get pretty stubborn when people tell us that we 'can't'," she explained with a smile. When she was 12, the Philippines national team held a training camp in California and Chandler was allowed to train with them after her mother reached out to the side’s then head coach, Ernie Nierras. So began the McDaniels’ Malditas journey.

Aiming high Down Under

Propelled to national prominence in the Philippines thanks to their exploits during qualifying, the sisters have enjoyed experiences that range from receiving encouraging messages from fans and media interviews to meeting their hero, Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquaio. Best of all, however, has been witnessing the impact their success has had on a grateful nation. "The team has always had a very loyal fanbase and it seems like it has really grown during these qualifying games," said Chandler. "It is great to see everyone excited about it. This has really brought the country together and gave us a sense of pride after a tough year for the Philippines. Us qualifying for the World Cup is indicative of how Filipinos are: we are fighters and we don't give up." "It brings more excitement and attention to the game," echoed Olivia. "I want to encourage not only young girls but kids in general to just invest their time in the game. The Philippines may not have some of the resources other countries have, but all you really need is a ball at your feet." As close as they are, the sisters have different goals ahead of next years FIFA Women’s World Cup. "I would have had another answer if you’d asked me before our Asian Cup semi-final against South Korea," said Chandler, who tore her ACL and meniscus in that game. "Now my pre-tournament goals are just to focus on rehabilitation and hopefully recovering and securing a place in the squad." Olivia, on the other hand, is already focusing on what the team can achieve. "We want to be competitive regardless of our opponents. And we want to reach the second round. I know it sounds like a big ambition, but we accomplished our goal at the qualifiers and, as long as we put our heads down and work, anything can happen."