Despite end of Women's Asian Cup fairytale, the dream is just beginning for Stajcic-led Philippines

Philippines' fairytale run at the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup came to an end on Thursday with a 2-0 loss to South Korea in the semifinals. Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images

Philippines' fairytale run at the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup came to an end on Thursday as they lost 2-0 to South Korea in the semifinals.

But when the dust finally settles and the obvious disappointment of missing out on the final eventually fades, the Malditas will not only be able to look back at a history-making campaign but also look forward to a maiden appearance at the FIFA Women's World Cup next year.

Even ahead of Thursday's clash with the South Koreans, Philippines were already assured of a place at next year's tournament -- to be held in Australia and New Zealand -- by virtue of reaching the last four of the Asian Cup.

The achievement would have tasted all the more sweeter given they came excruciatingly close to achieving the feat last time out, only to lose to South Korea 5-0 in the fifth-place playoff for Asia's final berth at the 2019 Women's World Cup.

For a country whose sporting scene has long been dominated by basketball, boxing and even billiards, football initially began its resurgence in 2010 when the men's team qualified for the semis of the AFF Suzuki Cup -- Southeast Asia's premier tournament -- for the first time.

The initial wave was led by former Chelsea academy graduates James and Phil Younghusband but has since been sustained by a new generation of talent, with the Azkals pulling off a historic achievement of their own by featuring at the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in 2019.

That feat however has now been surpassed with the Malditas -- currently 64th in the FIFA world rankings and only Asia's 13th-best team -- set to rub shoulders with the world's best as one of 32 teams at next year's global tournament.

From veteran duo Hali Long and Sara Castaneda to inspirational captain Tahnai Annis and goalkeeper Olivia McDaniel, the star of the quarterfinal shootout victory over Chinese Taipei with two crucial saves and a successful conversion of her own just as Philippines looked destined to lose the tie, the past fortnight has seen the emergence of what will soon be household names.

Perhaps more importantly, Philippines' remarkable qualification for the World Cup will also inspire the next generation of athletes to not only dream of glory but choose to go down the path of football, in a country with a rich collegiate sporting culture and no shortage of disciplines to pursue.

Plenty of credit has to also go to coach Alen Stajcic, who has now qualified for three Women's World Cups after leading Australia to the 2015 and 2019 editions, as well as the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) for pulling off the coup of appointing such a well-credentialled tactician in the first place when they announced his appointment back in October.

Stajcic's current deal runs only till the end of the Asian Cup, but the PFF has already made retaining his services until the World Cup comes around next July their top priority.

On a personal level, reaching the semis of the Asian Cup with Philippines has also been redemption for Stajcic given his abrupt dismissal from his role with Australia, who themselves suffered a shock quarterfinal loss to South Korea and will only feature at next year's World Cup by virtue of being tournament co-hosts.

Stajcic has been good for the Malditas. What the Malditas have achieved over the past fortnight has been great for Philippine football.

And while their Asian Cup dream has come to an end, their World Cup dream is only just beginning.