Macau's World Cup dream

Macau are one of the smallest footballing nations in the World, this is reflected in their current FIFA ranking of 183. Therefore it must come as no surprise, but they have never qualified for a World Cup, not only do they struggle to qualify, getting to the group stage of Asian qualifying is also a big task. Here we look deeper into Macau's World Cup dream.

Macau competing in World Cup qualification as a part of Portugal 

Macau were considered a part of Portugal from 1930 to 1978, during this period Macau had a team but it looks like they didn't compete in World Cup qualifying as they were deemed to be a part of Portugal. So even though Macau had a team they were unable to compete as Macau, and if any players from Macau were good enough we reckon that must have meant they were packed off to Portugal on a boat to represent the Portuguese national team.

As unlikely as that prospect seems, my searching brought me to two footballers who were born in Macau but represented Portugal at international level. Joaquim Pacheco and Augusto Rocha have 8 caps between them for the Portuguese, 1 for Pacheco and 7 for Rocha. They are the only two players I could find who were born in Macau, that have turned out for Portugal with Pacheco winning his only cap in 1957 and Rocha winning 7 caps between 1958-1963.

Pacecho was a defender who played for PSP Macau between 1950-1959 and Rocha was a striker who turned out for Sporting de Macau, Sporting Club Portugal, and Academica between 1953 to 1971.

This likely backs up my theory, that during this period Macau had a team representing the region, but it probably wasn't likely that the team were able to play in international competitions like the World Cup as Macau, so therefore the best players would play for Portugal, or at least attempt to.

Between 1982, and 1986 Macau did not qualify for the World Cup according to Wikipedia which means that they were eventually allowed to attempt to qualify, but as they were still a part of Portugal then, they must have been a special administrative region of Portugal and not China at that time. Either way it still didn't help them in their attempts at qualification.

A special administrative region of China

On the 20th December, 1999, Macau was handed back to China by Portugal Macau was settled and governed by Portugese merchants in 1535, during the Ming dynasty  from 1535 to 1999, Portugal had control over Macau, that was until it was handed back.

From a footballing point of view, this meant that Macau would no longer be considered a part of Portugal, or be a special region of Portugal. However, under the one country, two systems policy Macau would be able to retain its own sporting teams, this meant they would be known as representing the Special Administrative region of Macau (in the EAFF they write Macau, China) from now on.

In 1990 the team did not enter World Cup qualifying, but from 1994 onwards, they have been competing in World Cup qualification, and from 1999 they've been considered as SAR region of China. Their qualification for the 1994 USA World Cup looked to have gone tragically, playing 6 games, losing all of them, conceding 46 goals in the process and only scoring 1. At this time however the team was brand spanking new, and miles behind other countries on the international stage, they are still playing catch up to this day which is similar to a lot of other nations.

Macau's record since then has slowly improved, in the 98 qualifying they won and drew a game, for 2002, they only conceded 10 less goals than 94, and there has been small improvements ever since, but there hasn't been the huge leap of improvement needed for Macau to go further than ever before in qualifying, and they're likely to still have this problem for some time in the future, especially as the selection pool of players that can represent Macau will be low. Things surely could only get better from here on in for Macau

2014 World Cup qualifying

In the 2014 World Cup qualifying the AFC format made the first two rounds of qualifying a knockout match, that would be played out over two legs. Macau would enter at the first round stage, because of their low ranking, that means they would have to win two rounds of matches to make the final group stage.

They were drawn to face Vietnam, who at the that time had a much lower ranking than now, but drawing Vietnam was a disaster for Macau, because Vietnam is a football mad nation, and even though their ranking was quite low back in 2014, they were still considerably stronger than Macau. The disparity in the ability of the two teams showed in the final score over two legs, with Vietnam winning 13-1, 6-0 at home, and 7-1 in Macau. That was the end of Macau's World Cup dream for another 4 years.

2018 World Cup qualifying

For the 2018 World Cup qualifying the AFC decided that the qualifying format would be altered slightly, which would help a lot more teams by ensuring they would play more competitive matches than ever before. This was a great benefit for a lot of the smaller sides, but those who were at the very bottom of the rankings still found themselves needing to navigate a tricky first round game in order to make the group stage which was what would give them those extra much needed matches.

Macau were drawn to face Cambodia, and this would prove to be an obstacle too great, mainly based on the fact Cambodia are difficult to beat in their home ground. Cambodia often get packed houses for World Cup qualifying and South East nations are notorious for having a very patriotic and passionate support behind them in these games. Macau lost 3-0 in the Army Stadium in Phnom Penh which was a nail into the coffin of their World Cup hopes. If they wanted to progress any further than the first round stage, they needed to ensure they only lost by the odd goal, or scraped a draw away in Cambodia. 

As it turned out, the 3-0 defeat was impossible for Macau to overcome because it meant they would need to win by 4 clear goals in Macau which was never going to happen, the home leg ended 1-1 which meant Macau went out 4-1 on aggregate and their World Cup dream was over for another 4 years after only 1 game. That made it 8 years and after only two World Cup matches in 8 years Macau remain as far from the World Cup as most people would expect them to be. 

2018 World Cup qualifying

Macau found themselves back in the first round draw for the World Cup again, meaning if they lose that they will only have played 3 World Cup qualifying games (6 if you include both legs) over a period of 12 years. The good news for Macau was that they were one of the seeded teams in the draw for the first round which took place last week. 

The draw was made last week, and Macau were paired with Sri Lanka, even though Macau were officially the seeded team in the draw, I don't believe it matters that much who is seeded and who isn't when you get this low down the rankings, because the Fifa points used to separate them are minimal. That means either Macau or Sri Lanka could win this match and get to the next round, it's just too difficult to call, but Macau will be hoping that they once, and for all do manage to make the next round, and making the next round would actually be a big achievement for them. It would also give them more than 2 World Cup matches for the first time in 8 years, which will give their players some more experience which could hold them in good stead for the future.

Carlos Leonel could hold the key for Macau's hopes

Carlos Leonel could be one of Macau's key hopes in the first qualifying round of the World Cup, born in Madeira, Portugal the Benfica de Macau forward has a terrific eye for goal, and has so far scored 4 goals in 7 matches for Macau since being able to be called up to represent Macau.

The player is the type who could be considered something of a journeyman, playing for 9 clubs during his career, but he seems to have found a home in Macau having played for Benfice de Macau since 2015 and scoring 59 goals in 53 appearances indicates how much importance he could have for Macau in these vital World Cup games. If Macau are to surpass Sri Lanka and take a spot in the group stages, they need to make sure the support is there to support Leonel in order to fire them through. If Carlos is on fire, then we believe Macau can make it to the next round. 

It is going to be a tough match for Macau against Sri Lanka, but due to Macau being the seeded team, they will go into the game as slight favourites and Macau's World Cup dream would be making the second qualifying round ensuring that they'd get 8 more competitive matches, while also being guaranteed to play against one of Asia's biggest sides. That for Macau would be success and something they can build on for the future. We predict a narrow Macau win.

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