Matao unfazed by Azkals-A A +A
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
THE Matao, Guam's national men’s football team, is unfazed by the higher FIFA-ranked Philippine Azkals, as they tangle with the much-favored home team 7:00 pm today at Panaad Park and Stadium, Mansilingan, Bacolod City.
“The Azkals is a good squad but we’re up to the match. We hope the Azkals is up to us, as well,” said Matao team captain Jason Cunliffe during the press conference yesterday at O Hotel, Bacolod City.
Cunliffe’s confidence echoes the slogan emblazoned at the Matao’s banner which declares, “We’re ready. Are you?”
According to the latest FIFA rankings released this month, Guam is ranked 194 while the Philippines is at 149. The discrepancy in FIFA rankings compelled some fans to believe that Guam’s pride will become easy prey to the Street Dogs tonight.
Matao head coach Gary White doesn’t mind the underdog tag.
“We played games bigger than this,” said White who will be calling the shots for Matao for the first time in an international friendly which some people in Guam consider as the biggest international game of the young team to date.
The coach from Southhampton, England took over the tutelage of Guam’s national team only last February. A EUFA A License coach, White previously mentored the Bahamas national men’s team which is ranked 137 by FIFA.
“Games are not won on paper. They are won in the pitch,” the English coach said, unknowingly repeating almost in toto what his counterpart Azkals head coach Michael Weiss said during last Sunday’s presscon.
White thanked the Philippine Football Federation and the Guam Football Association for arranging the match with the Azkals.
“This is a very important match for us because this is a great opportunity for our players to gain experience against a strong team. We are experimenting with new formations and strategies in preparation for the East Asia Football Championship, the first leg of which will be held in Guam on July next year,” said White.
The Matao’s line-up for this international friendly is composed of players with an average age of 21 years old.
“We give more attention to impact than age. If they play well enough with high impact on the team, then they are old enough,” pointed out Matao assistant coach Jimmy Okuhama, a Guam national team mainstay since he was sixteen years old who was hand-picked by White to join the coaching staff.
Like the Azkals, the Matao is also composed both of local players and those playing in the international leagues.
“Some of our players play in Division 1 on US college soccer tourneys while we also have two players who compete in the MLS but these two didn’t make it in this trip,” disclosed White.
“We also have six players with Filipino roots and a player, Jonathan Romero, who plays for Caya Football Club in the Philippines’ United Football League,” revealed White.
Matao players with Filipino roots are Ian Mariano, Ian Adamos, Randy Navarette Espinosa (who proudly said that both his parents have roots in Iloilo), Christian Schweizer, Reyn Johnson and Thaddeus Atalig.
“Matao is the highest caste of the Chamorro people,” explained Okuhama when asked what the team’s nickname means. “It means nobility,” he added.
The Chamorro is the indigenous people of the Marianas Islands, which includes Guam.
“Come out and see the match,” White urged football fans. “Come out to support your national team, the Azkals.”
“Grab the opportunity to watch the players of Guam before they become famous,” he jokingly said. “When they do, you can say that you have already seen them play at Panaad.”
In a more serious note, White said, “Nobody expects much from our team but we might show you some surprises.” (Butch S. Bacaoco)
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on June 13, 2012.