Matao looking to reset after China, UAE matches

MATAO: The Matao, Guam National team, pose for a quick group photo ahead of its final Round 2 FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Asian Qualifiers Group A match against the Philippines at Sharjah Stadium in the United Arab Emirates in this June 11 file photo. Front row, from left: Shawn Aguigui, Mark Chargualaf, Eduardo Pedemonte, Jr., Clayton Sato, Nate Lee, Devan Mendiola, Morgan McKenna, Kyle Halehale, Leon Morimoto, and Isiah Lagutang. Back row, from left: Ryan Quitugua, Anthony Moon, Sean Evans, Dallas Jaye, Alexander Lee, Shane Healy, Marlon Evans, Jason Cunliffe, Travis Nicklaw, John Matkin, Marcus Lopez, Nate Sablan, and Guam Football Association General Secretary Marvin "Ike" Iseke. Photo courtesy of the Philippines Football Federation 

The Guam-based Matao players and staff returned to Guam Monday evening with plans to continue to make improvements and adjust priorities after completing their Round 2 matches of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Asian Qualifiers in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

In three fixtures, with a 13-nil score differential, the Matao, Guam Men’s National Soccer Team suffered shutout defeats to China PR, Syria and Philippines.

The next round of FIFA World Cup qualification will begin in 2023 in FIFA’s first-ever triple-host tournament in Canada, Mexico and the United States in 2026.

“This past FIFA World Cup qualification round was an opportunity to reevaluate the Matao team and its potential for success in future tournaments,” said Sang Hoon Kim, GFA technical director. “In the most recent three matches, we had seen the potential of many of the new, younger players and their contributions to the team. We need to invest more into the development of young Guam-based players currently in our national program and make more efforts toward a generational change if we want to stay competitive at the highest level, especially for the next FIFA World Cup qualification rounds.

“Every national team goes through this transitional phase, and we need to truly strengthen the Matao team by prioritizing sustainability in the program.”

In Guam’s return to the pitch after 18 months without matches, Guam played three matches against the top teams in Group A – two of which are still alive for qualification for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. Syria finished at the top of the group to automatically advance to the next round of FIFA qualifiers and China PR was one of the top four best second-place teams that also advanced.

In Guam’s opening match, China PR defeated the team 7-0 in front of close to 30,000 spectators at Suzhou Olympic Center Stadium. Noticeably absent from the team were long-time Captain Jason Cunliffe, who sat out the first match due to accumulation of yellow cards in previous matches and veteran players John Matkin, Travis Nicklaw, Alexander and Justin Lee, and Kyle Halehale, leaving only 16 players available. Nicklaw, the Lee brothers, and Halehale were among five players from Guam rerouted to Dubai who missed the first match waiting for a chartered flight originally scheduled for other teams in the group and match officials to arrive in China.

Mark Chargualaf donned the captain armband for the first time and a handful of players made their debut for Guam: Anthony Moon, Clayton Sato, Leon Morimoto, Shane Healy, and Eduardo Pedemonte Jr.

“Having a good amount of guys who earned their first call-up or international cap – this was a huge experience for them to see the level we play at and what it takes to be a part of the Matao, on and off the pitch,” said Isiah Lagutang, one of a few players who started and played all of Guam’s three matches. “I’d say we’ve solidified how we want to be playing football and I’m lucky I got to see it really work for us first-hand.”

The same day of the Guam-China match, due to issues with entry into China by teams from Syria and Maldives, FIFA and AFC urged CFA to instead organize a neutral venue for the remaining Round 2 matches. The Matao later traveled by charter plane from Shanghai, China PR over several time zones to Dubai, UAE to play its remaining matches at Sharjah Stadium.

The venue change also came with a schedule change. Instead of facing the Philippines in its second match of the round, Guam played the group’s top team Syria to a tough 3-0 loss. In the team’s final match of the round, the Philippines emerged with a 3-0 win.

The remaining four teams in Group A played their final matches Tuesday. China PR defeated Syria 3-1 and the Philippines and Maldives settled for a 1-1 draw.

Following Tuesday’s matches, across all groups, the top 12 teams – eight first-place teams and the top four second-place teams – were determined for the next round of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualification: Syria, Australia, IR Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Korea Republic, China PR, Oman, Iraq, Vietnam, and Lebanon.