From The Archive - The Ultimate Underdogs: A History of Football in Micronesia
This article was originally published on the Penalty Magazine website.
In sport everyone loves an underdog. A ragtag group that have little to no chance of winning but you will them on anyway in the hope that one day, one perfect day they finally upset the odds and win the big one. Think of the third round of the FA Cup, when the semi-professional team from the Conference South are drawn against Man United at Old Trafford. Or when San Marino prepare to face England and every back-page story and pitch side pundit discuss how team is made up of teachers and bakers.
Imagine if there was a team that made San Marino look like Barcelona. It appears with their recent results the Federated States of Micronesia have become that team. In their last three games their under-23 team have conceded a staggering 114 goals. In their debut appearance at the Pacific Games, which is also the under-23 football team’s debut in any competition they faced Tahiti, losing 30-0. This was the second time Tahiti had won by this amount in the Pacific Games – the first occurring in 1971 when they faced the Cook Islands. It appears that this was actually the calm before the storm as in their second game they were up against Fiji which resulted in them losing 38-0 and in their most recent game when they faced Vanuatu they conceded a staggering 46 goals. These past two results eclipse the record number of goals conceded in an official competition which was set when American Samoa let in 31 goals against Australia in 2001. Micronesia’s blushes have been spared though as the results are not eligible to go in the record books. As this year the Pacific Games are doubling up as a qualifying tournament for the 2016 Olympics the matches are played using under-23 rules and so cannot be measured against full international results. Also as Federated States of Micronesia Football Association are not currently an associated member of FIFA it cannot be considered in the official FIFA results.
As they’re not yet an associated member of FIFA it means the Federated States of Micronesia are yet to be awarded a FIFA ranking. The three teams they faced in the Pacific Games do have FIFA rankings so we’re able to see the sheer gulf in class between the nations and the work that’s ahead of the FSMFA. Although the teams that appeared at the Pacific Games were their under-23 teams, it’s likely that their national team will be at a similar level. According to the updated FIFA rankings Tahiti are 182nd, Fiji are 195th and Vanuatu are 200th in the world respectively. To put that into perspective San Marino are 192nd. It seems the Federated States of Micronesia have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to get to a similar level as these teams.
That isn’t to downplay the work has already taken place. The country has a proud sporting heritage having sent a total of 14 athletes to the past four Olympics, which for a small country with probably a small budget for sport is quite impressive. In 1992 football was properly introduced to the people and just 7 years the Federated States of Micronesia Football Association was born. In June they played their first international, a losing effort to Guam. All was not lost though as the next month they won their first trophy: the Micronesian Cup. The competition consisted of just three teams: Federal State of Micronesia, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and Crusaders. After beating the Crusaders in the final 14-1, it seemed the FA were well on their way. In 2003 a combined team consisting of players from three (Chuuk, Pohnpei and Yap) of the four islands that make up Micronesia competed together as the FSM in the South Pacific Games. Unfortunately the team suffered a similar fate to their current Pacific Games appearances. After their four matches they did not score a goal and conceded a total of 52. Losing to Tahiti (17-0), New Caledonia (0-18), Tonga (7-0) and finally Papua New Guinea (10-0) saw a decline in interest in the sport. That is until the arrival of new coaches from England, Paul Watson and Matthew Conrad. First starting as the coaches on Pohnpei they soon received a promotion to managers of the whole nation. After instilling a fitness regime and attempting to build a buzz around the sport the men left to assist with Bayangol FC in Mongolia. A problem Watson appeared to have was attempting to maintain an interest in the sport across the four islands that make up Micronesia. With travel from the island of Yap to Pohnpei costing £400 and taking up to two hours the opportunity to scout new talent is a costly one.
According to World Soccer it is these distances between islands that have affected the Federated State of Micronesia’s acceptance into the Oceania Football Confederation. If they were to be included in the confederation they would be given grants which would be used to improve facilities which would in turn increase interest in the sport. Unfortunately for the FSMFA they won’t be allowed into the OFC until there is a proven interest in the sport. In something of a Catch-22 it appears if the country wish to improve in the sport they must attempt to enter the Asian Football Confederation. The football governing body for Asia could be more inclined to accept Micronesia due to the close ties they share with one of their East Asian Football Federation members, Guam.
The aim for the FA must be to enter one of these confederations so they can develop as a footballing nation, be accepted into FIFA and finally make it onto the FIFA rankings and become football’s ultimate underdog.