Miriam Merlin (left) with a friend. (Photo courtesy of Tiebreaker Times)

Former Philippine national football player, Miriam Merlin, showcased her unwavering passion for the beautiful game by embarking on an arduous 23-hour plane journey to support the Filipinas in their debut at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Auckland.

In an interview at a hotel in Auckland, Merlin expressed the historical significance of the event and emphasized that it was an opportunity not to be missed by sports fans. Despite the financial constraints, she opted for a budget-friendly Air Asia flight with stopovers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Sydney, Australia, before reaching her destination.

Having been part of the national women’s team at just 17 years old during the 1993 Philippine National Games in Baguio City, Merlin proudly displayed her old Philippine Football Federation ID card, a cherished memento of her international playing days. She fondly remembered her time under the guidance of the late esteemed coach Orlando Plagata, alongside other former national women’s coaches Leticia “Buda” Bautista and Lelet Dimzon.

Merlin, who has been coaching the highly successful La Salle-Lipa high school girls’ squad for the past 25 years, obtained permission from her school supervisor to travel to Auckland. Accompanied by her former player, Kathleen de Torres, who now works as a nurse in the city, she eagerly watched the Group A match between host New Zealand and Norway at the renowned Eden Park.

Inspired by the Filipinas’ victory in the AFF Women’s Championship last year, Merlin made the firm decision to attend the World Cup and saved up for the trip, despite some opposition from her siblings. Understanding the significance of the tournament, she expressed her immense pride in the team’s qualification and emphasized the importance of taking one game at a time while praying for their success.

For Merlin, witnessing the Filipinas compete at the highest level of international football is an honor, and she joins millions back home in hopes of their qualification to the next round of the tournament.