Well-wishers led by no less than newly sworn in Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider joined the Nepal-bound CNMI Men's National Team in a send-off dinner held last night at the Seaside Hall of the Kanoa Resort.
“We are so proud of you. I know you will be good ambassadors of the CNMI. For those of us who will not be able to join you in Nepal, we will be cheering for you back home and we wish you all the best,” said Hofschneider, who led the ceremonial turnover of the CNMI flag to the team.
Also present at the send-off dinner were Northern Mariana Islands Football Association officials, members, and officers of various local clubs, representatives of sponsors IT&E and Marianas Health Services, and other supporters.
“We would like to commend our players for showing tremendous commitment and hard work since they started training in September. We may be the newest team competing in Nepal, but I know our players will give every opponent a tough game,” NMIFA president Jerry Tan said.
“Our NMI men's delegation will write a new chapter in the history of NMIFA by competing in our first AFC tournament. Entering competition at this level was only a dream when NMIFA was founded in 2005. We've come a long way since then. Our national players and coaches have logged in countless hours of training and are ready to take the challenge. I'd like to wish all them all the very best as we stand proud and watch with excitement and in anticipation from Saipan,” NMIFA vice president Vickie Izuka added.
The Blue Ayuyus will be leaving Saipan early tomorrow morning to compete in the Asian Football Confederation 2014 Challenge Cup that will be held in Kathmandu from March 2 to 6. From Saipan, they will go to Manila for a connecting flight and a scrimmage on Saturday evening against the Meralco Sparks, who will be bannered by seven Philippine National Team members. The CNMI strikers will then leave Manila on Sunday for another connecting flight to China before arriving in Nepal in the evening.
In Kathmandu, the Blue Ayuyus will play the host first on March 2 at 5:30pm (around 10pm Saipan time) at the Dashrath Stadium. The CNMI's second game will be against Palestine on March 4 at 2:30pm and the last will be versus Bangladesh, also at 2:30pm on March 6.
The CNMI, Nepal, Palestine, and Bangladesh comprise Group D of the qualifier. Four other groups will have their separate competitions next month and the winner of each group and the two second best-placed teams in the qualifiers will get entries to the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup, which will be held from March 8 to 23, 2014 in Maldives. The champion of the Challenge Cup will then qualify for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup where the zone's top-ranked Japan, North and South Korea, and Australia have already gained tickets.
With the CNMI competing in the AFC men's event for the first time, NMIFA executive committee member Joseph Villagomez said the tournament is a good chance to show the Commonwealth's brand of football.
“It's a welcome opportunity to our players. We will be able to introduce CNMI football to the rest of the region. We will be able to show them that we have a lot of talented and promising players and we can compete in their level,” Villagomez said.
The CNMI Team is composed of 20 players, who will be joined by eight officials. Leading the squad are captains Joe Miller and Trey Dunn. Other members of the team are Jehn Joyner, Jireh Yobech, Timothy Tawanpiy, Sean Perez, Ruselle and Raphael Zapanta, Jake Tiger Lee, Steve McKagan, Peter Loken, Dan Westphal, Lucas Knecht, Bo Barry, Yuki Adachi, Nick Swaim, Dae Won Jeon, Chris Nelson, and goalies Evan Hunsberger. and Johann Noetzel. Former Olympian and Hong Kong football star will coach the squad and will be assisted Chi Ming Tang and Ho Man Chen. Wesley M. Bogdan, Norman del Rosario, and Pamela Carhill are also part of the delegation.
“We are aiming to bring good results from Nepal,” said Noetzel, a former pro in the MLS and English Premier League and will be playing for the CNMI for the first time.