Following their 1-2 fighting loss to Oman in Bengaluru, India travel to Guam for the second World Cup Qualifier. Their opponents are on a high after winning their first ever World Cup qualifier at home after they beat Turkmenistan 1-0 on the 11th of June.
Guam are a Pacific island and a US territory with a population of 200,000. To put that into context, when they travel to India they will play in a city with a population of more than 18 million. They are the smallest of all the Asian teams playing the qualifiers.
In the first round of matches, Guam played if front of a capacity crowd of almost two thousand people but the exact figure is unknown as the Guam FA put up temporary stands for the huge demand for tickets. India, on the other hand, played in front of almost 20000 people in Bengaluru. For Guam, it was the first time they charged the fans for a football match.
The Guam team or Matao as they are fondly called reached this far in the qualifiers way back in 2000 when they were trying to qualify for the 2002 World cup in south Korea and Japan. They lost 19-0 to Iran in and then three days later conceded another 16 to Tajikistan.
To turn it around this quickly is amazing: Jason Cunliffe
This is progress for the small nation who did not have proper pitches until a few years back.
Team captain, leading goalscorer and all-time caps holder, Jason Cunliffe is amazed at the pace at which football has progressed in Guam. In a recent interview the 31-year-old said,“I was a part of some of those tough results previously; I first got on the team in 2006. I’ve been through the trials and tribulations, I’ve had the double-digit scorelines as recently as 2008 and 2009, and to turn it around this quickly is amazing.”
One ritual which is unique to Guam is the Inifresi. The Inifresi is a chant which the players and the management of the team sing together before every game. The Inifresi translates to "From the inner-most recesses of my thoughts, from deep within my heart, and with all my might this I offer myself. To protect and defend, the beliefs, the culture, the language, the air, the water, and our lands, which is our inherent god-given rights."
Gary White has been the manager of the country for almost three years now and has overseen the change in the footballing culture on the island. “Prior to me coming here, it was a very negative program because teams would go out and try not to lose by too many but that, for me, is not the way to play football.
“If you’re going to play let’s go out to try and win and use our strengths so I needed something to connect everybody and then also connect the community to support us,” said the 40-year-old.
“I think the best way of doing that is bringing in things like the Inifresi which everybody knows in Guam and to give us a nickname – the Matao – so these things start to grow a culture and now that culture is being seeped all the way through to the academy and youth sides and all the way back up.”
India next on Guam’s list
Guam next lock horns with another nation trying to find its identity in the world of football, India. India are ranked more than 30 places above the island nation and will be a tough assignment for the Guam side.
Indian team captain, Sunil Chhetri, in his pre-match conference praised Guam stating that they were a different team to the one that lost to India 4-0 two years ago.
“Guam have definitely improved a lot from the last time we played them. On the surface, one didn’t give them much of a chance against Turkmenistan but this squad is a different side altogether. Their win speaks volumes of the improvement and we have huge respect for Guam.”
Cunliffe said that even though the team had achieved something that had never been done, they set their sights on India right after the final whistle.
“The match ended, we won and we stopped there. We started focusing on India and aim for three points,” Cunliffe told journalists at the pre-match conference.
Whatever the result of the game, we can assume Guam are here to stay and are dead set on making a name of themselves in world football