Guam's World Cup dream

The tiny island nation of Guam has come a long way since entering international association football. The small American territory, with a huge fighting spirit, have been drawn to face Bhutan in the first round of World Cup Qualifying, which also doubles up as qualifying for the Asian Cup. 

Therefore this will be Guam's biggest football match for 4 years, lose and they will find themselves out of both the World Cup and the Asian Cup. We take a closer look at the team who are fighting to make Guam proud of their Matao warriors.

One of FIFA's newer nations

The Guam football association was only founded in 1975, this makes Guam one of international football's newer members. Even though the football association in Guam was founded in 1975, they were not accepted into FIFA until 1996, which meant they could not enter World Cup qualifying before then.

During the years before FIFA acceptance, Guam competed in the South Pacific Games only, where they competed against other teams from the Oceania region. The last time Guam participated in the South Pacific Games was 1991, and they were entered into a group with Fiji, New Caledonia and Tahiti. Guam finished bottom of that group, scoring only 2 goals and conceding 37, they suffered massive hidings, losing: 15-1 to Tahiti, 14-1 to Fiji and 8-0 to New Caledonia. Being accepted into FIFA has obviously been of great benefit for football in Guam.

Accepted into FIFA 

Guam was finally accepted into FIFA in 1996, and what this meant was they were now eligible to participate in FIFA recognised competitions. This allowed them to enter, World Cup Qualifying, Asian Cup Qualifying and the East Asian Championship.

They entered World Cup qualifiers for the first time in 2002 when the finals that time round were held in Japan and South Korea. That first qualifying campaign didn't end so well for the Matao (the nickname given to the Guam national team) but the point wasn't really about the results in 2002, the greater importance was that Guam was now accepted on the world stage.

Guam was in a 3 team group with Asian heavyweights Iran, and Tajikistan from Central Asia, in 2002, the qualifying stages for the earlier rounds were all played at one venue and Guam's group played their matches in Lebanon and Qatar. I expect Guam wouldn't have had any fans in either of these destinations which isn't ideal for your first ever participation in World Cup qualifying.

If Guam were able to pull in a small but patriotic crowd cheering them on then the scorelines of a 19-0 defeat to Iran, and a 16-0 defeat to Tajikistan might not have been so bad. Not to worry, because they were the starting building blocks for what was to come in the future.

Rapid improvements put Guam on the lips of the world's media

Before, 2018 World Cup qualifying, Guam hired talented English manager Gary White, who is now at Japanese J2 side Tokyo Verdy. Before White headed to Guam, he previously had an impressive record of improving smaller nations FIFA world rankings, especially during his time with the British Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas. This was likely one of the key reasons that attracted Guam to offer him the chance of managing them for qualifying.

Guam's first game in 2018 qualifying was against Turkmenistan at home, Guam wasn't expected to make any kind of mark in the competition, as they were expected to be that team who just make up the numbers. If you spend some time to take a look at Guam's other results throughout history you can see why people would have thought they'd be the whipping boys of the group.

With White implementing a new fighting spirit, getting the team to do the Inifresi which is Guam's version of the famous Hakka, and putting thoughts into the players' minds that they can win games against anyone. With this new attitude, Turkmenistan got a shock as they were turned over when they rocked up in Guam, much to the shock of the footballing world. The scoreline read Guam 1 - 0 Turkmenistan, this was Guam's first ever World Cup qualifying win, and the man they had to thank for the winning goal was a Turkmen. Serdar Annaorazow scoring a 12th-minute own goal, and Guam held onto that for a famous victory with reverberations reaching far and wide. Little Guam was now on the world stage.

Better was to follow, as Guam's good form continued

If defeating Turkmenistan wasn't special enough, Guam went one better in their next qualifier when India rolled into town. India had just been tipped as one of the footballs sleeping giants by FIFA, but they may have picked them purely based on population size alone.

India would have been in buoyant mood after being labelled as one of the worlds sleeping, football giants. FIFA however, got that wrong in my opinion, as India has never been a footballing country, and they will need to do a great deal to overcome cricket, as India is cricket crazy, not football crazy. Therefore, the population doesn't count so much, if the population doesn't have much interest in the sport.

India lost their first qualifying game, 2-1 at home against Oman, and would have been expecting to pick up their first 3 points of the campaign against little, plucky Guam who toppled the Turkmen in the last match. Well, India was sent home in shock because that little plucky team from a small Pacific island sent the Indian boys packing after they were defeated 2-1 by the Matao warriors. 

This left Guam riding high in the qualifying group, with two wins from two games and sitting on a whopping 6 points. The world's media really paid attention after India win, and a lot of it focused on population size, which is an illogical argument (it only matters if most the population love football).

What is more important than population alone, having loads of people working hard to develop footy? Guam had obviously been working behind the scenes like pure maniacs for years to get to where they were in 2018 qualifying, and not only working like maniacs but working in the interest of improving their national team, not for personal gain like so many Asian football associations do. That is why Guam defeated India, because they worked hard at it, and developed a good side that was capable of competing.

The good form couldn't be maintained 

Guam's form couldn't be maintained over the whole qualifying campaign, they lost heavily twice to Iran, which was to be expected considering the strength of Iranian football. Other than the games against Iran, Guam only lost in the other games by the odd goal, which showed the great improvement they were making.

They did pick up one more positive result along the way, a 0-0 draw against Oman, but it didn't receive the media attention anything like what happened after India win. The positive results Guam did get though, meant that they didn't need to play a pre-qualifying game to enter the Asian Cup, which was positive. They would be entered directly into the group stage, where they would likely stand a good chance of progressing to the Asian Cup finals for the first time in their history.

Withdrawal from Asian Cup 

Disaster struck for Guam, as they decided they didn't have the finances required to complete their Asian Cup qualifying campaign. Therefore, their association chairman at the time said the reason they couldn't play their matches, was because Guam had drawn too many sides from West Asia. That would mean the cost of travel would have been excessive.

So Guam pulled out, just when they had their best chance ever of qualifying in their entire history. It was definitely a sad day for Guam football, and in my opinion, set them back a bit in the progress they had already made because of the lack of competitive football.

In a twist of events, after Guam had withdrawn from Asian Cup qualifying, news broke that Guam Football Association boss Tony Lai, who was a part of FIFA's ethics committee at the time, was suspended from football for taking bribes that amounted to $950,000 (£735,000). 

Not participating in the qualifying for the Asian Cup was a massive lost opportunity for that Guam team who did so well for their country, and for Guam football in general. Since then they have been knocked back a bit, but are slowly on the road to rebuild.

World Cup, first round draw - Bhutan

The draw for first-round World Cup qualifying took place last month, and Guam got paired with Bhutan. Bhutan was also another nation who surprised people in 2018 qualifying because they managed to get past Sri Lanka and enter the group stage. This was a huge thing for Bhutan, as they had never been past the first round before in their history.

People laughed at them getting heavy beatings in the group stage on social media, but they don't know anything, because the fact Bhutan even made the group stage was a miracle alone. Fair play to them for getting there, but it shows all the so-called smaller nations are striving to improve, this means that Guam will face a tough battle to get to the group stage of the World Cup.

The winner of this match will feel like they've won the lottery, the game really is that big for all the nations competing in AFC first round qualifying, to be knocked out of two competitions in 1 game is dreadful. 

Bhutan and Guam couldn't be any more contrasting nations if they tried, and this shows the diversity of countries who play in Asian qualifying. Guam, famous for having wonderful beaches, and a tropical climate, and Bhutan, a small mountain nation based in the Himalayas. 

For anyone who isn't aware, Asia is huge, and that means the travel time for countries can be insane, for both nations in this match, the travel time is going to be immense and whoever can cope with the travelling the best will be in better shape to win the game. In Europe, teams moan about playing in Russia, try some of the distances involved in Asia.

I believe Guam will overcome Bhutan, but it will be a tough fight and they will win only by the odd goal, but that won't bother Guam's players as the Matao will seal their place in the next round of World Cup qualifying. 

Unfortunately, the way the AFC have qualifying set up means some of the small nations will lose out on competitive football for 4 years, and we feel bad for whichever team that will be. But we are predicting a Guam win in this one. 

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