Host CNMI held its own against Guam but lost its international debut, 3-2, in an intense and closely fought preliminary round match yesterday in the East Asian Football Championships at the Civic Center Field in Oleai.
Next week, April 1, the CNMI will travel to Guam for the second half of their two-match preliminary competition.
A simple opening ceremony took place before the match where kids playing in the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association youth league paraded with the flags of FIFA, the CNMI, and Guam.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial graced the occasion and joined NMIFA president Jerry Tan, Guam Football Association president Richard Lai, Northern Marianas Amateur Sports Association president Michael A. White, and officials from the East Asian Football Federation at the VIP box.
The winner of the two matches, based on points, will earn the right of facing the winner of the Hong Kong-Macau playoff. The winner then moves on to join an elite group that is composed of China, South Korea, and Japan for the East Asian Football Championship in 2008 in Chongqing, China.
Both teams played aggressively in the opening minutes of the match with both squads gauging each other’s skill.
Then Guam became more aggressive resulting into a ninth-minute strike by Alan Jamison catching CNMI goalie Ross Benjamin Wood by surprise.
Jamison made the kick right at the penalty box with the CNMI defense concentrating in the left side of the field.
With the hometown crowd cheering them on CNMI battled Guam for every possession and Wood got a number of saves that prevented the visiting team from increasing their lead.
Team CNMI also played aggressively in hopes of tying the score at halftime as they let Guam goalie Brett Maluwelmeng work double time.
The first half ended with Guam holding on to a 1-0 lead.
Getting some pep talk from manager John A. Ravell and coach Jeff “Ziggy” Korytoski at the dugout, Team CNMI raised their level of play and became more aggressive resulting in a number of near-scores.
Mark McDonald—who battled a Guam player near the goal—made a pivot move, gained ball possession, and gave the ball a slight nudge that escaped Maluwelmang’s defense that tied the score at 1-1 in the 57th minute of the match.
Eight minutes later Guam regained the lead when Zachary J. Pangelinan, using the same play they had in scoring the first goal, scored in the 65th minute.
Pangelinan receiving a pass from Edward C. Calvo capitalized on the CNMI’s defensive lapse and booted the ball with Wood barely missing the save.
McDonald again came to CNMI’s rescue when he scored his second goal in the 75th minute and the home team needing 15 more minutes to hold off Guam’s repeated attack to end the match into a draw.
But Pangelinan had other plans that day. The Guam midfielder nailed another goal in the 78th minute that became the insurance goal for the visitors as they tightened up their defense, preventing the CNMI to tie the match.
NMIFA referees director Dean Tenorio, however, expressed satisfaction on how the CNMI played considering the preparation of the national team. “Not bad for a team that had [only] two months to prepare. Hopefully we play at the same level when we go to Guam.”