The tiny Pacific island have surged to 186 in FIFA’s world rankings.
By Steve Menary
Guam’s shock run in the 2010 East Asian Football Federation championships ended with a humbling but football on the isolated Pacific island has still enjoyed its best year.
Guam joined FIFA in 1996 and waited 13 years to beat a fellow member. That win came in the preliminary round of the 2010 EAFF competition in Guam. The home side edged Mongolia 1-0 with a Christopher Mendiola strike, then pipped neighbours North Mariana 2-1 with goals from Joshua Borja and Ian Mariano to set up a decider with Macau.
More than 1,400 fans saw Jason Cunliffe’s last minute goal salvage a 2-2 draw for Guam at the Leo Palace Resort in Yona and send his team to the semi-final round in Taiwan.
On August 23 Kaohsiung, Guam shocked World Cup finalists North Korea with a first minute goal from Borja only to go down 9-2. Two days later, Guam took a two goal lead against the hosts, Borja again on target twice, only to go down 4-2.
Guam’s campaign ended with a 12-0 thumping from Hong Kong but with Guam Football Association president Richard Lai elected onto the Asian Football Confederation’s executive committee earlier this year, the game on one of FIFA’s weakest members is making real progress.
Guam have surged up FIFA’s rankings to 186th place, while funds from FIFA’s Goal Project have provided a headquarters and pitches but more help is needed.
Jean Cepeda, a coach at Isla Sports Association, which runs junior football and basketball sides, explains: “Although GFA has an outstanding training facility, to allow clubs to practice there will destroy the fields for matches. Youth participation is club based [and] club leaders must use fields also used for other sports, such as American football, baseball, or rugby.
“Another obstacle is lack of coaches or volunteers willing to coach. Without coaches, clubs are limited to the number of players they can accept into the club. [There is also] a lack of clubs or additional organizations willing to start up and administer a club. Many volunteers are satisfied to staying as a coach and do not worry about the administrative responsibilities.”
The sport is still the most popular on Guam with 600 adult players and 1,600 children registered with the GFA, which was formed in 1975 after the island staged the South Pacific Games. Activity lapsed in the 1980s before US Navy teams began matches with local sides. The game gained impetus and the GFA joined the AFC as an associate in 1992-93.
Today, the GFA has a dozen full members with Sidekicks Soccer Club, founded in 1985, the oldest still in existence, and runs a two-tier league sponsored by Budweisers.
The island has two football seasons: one running from early February to Easter, the second from September to the beginning of Thanksgiving. Quality FC won the league and cup double in the first season and were joined in the top flight by Crushers, who won the second division.
No players from Guam play professionally abroad at present but midfielder Cunliffe turned out for Santa Clara University while studying in the US and national team-mate, Mark Chargualaf recently had trials with professional teams in Japan.
The final round of the EAFF championship will be in Japan. Guam will not be there but the island’s footballers can look to next year with more confidence than ever.