The CNMI Men's National Team arrived in Nepal early yesterday morning and received a warm welcome from the host nation.
The 20-player squad and its five officials touched down at the Tribhuwan International Airport in Kathmandu past 10pm last Sunday (around 3am Monday Saipan time) and were welcomed by All Nepal Football Association official Ramesh Rayamajhi. The first batch of the CNMI delegates was presented with marigold flower necklace as part of Nepal's traditional welcome ceremony for visitors. Former Saipan residents Manju and Subu Pandey also greeted the visiting squad at the airport.
“We are happy to come to Kathmandu and play in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers,” goalie Johann Noetzel was quoted as saying in the Nepal football association's website.
Joining Noetzel on the Blue Ayuyus' roster are captains Joe Miller and Trey Dunn, 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 fellow goalie Evan Hunsberger.
Head coach Luam Khen Koo, assistant coaches Chi Ming Tang and Ho Man Chen, and physiotherapist Pamela Carhill are with the team and will be joined by head of delegation and Northern Marianas Islands Football Association president Jerry Tan, team manager Norman Del Rosario, and team official Wesley Bogdan late this week in time for the March 2 opening of the Asian Football Confederation 2014 Challenge Cup Qualifiers.
After their arrival in Nepal early Monday morning, the Blue Ayuyus were scheduled to start their training session yesterday afternoon. There are three training sites in Nepal-the ANFA Complex, ANFA Technical Centre, and the National Police Academy-while games will be played at the Dashrath Stadium.
The CNMI strikers will face Nepal in its debut game on March 2 at 5:30pm and will have their second match against Palestine on March 4 at 2:30pm. The Blue Ayuyus will then close out its Group D game versus Bangladesh on March 6, also at 2:30pm. Winners of the Group D bracket and four other pools and the two second best-placed teams in the qualifiers will receive slots to the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup, which will be held from March 8 to 23, 2014 in Maldives.
It will be the CNMI's first time to compete in a men's tournament in the AFC and although coach Koo admitted that his players will be facing a tough task in Nepal, he assured the Commonwealth supporters that the Blue Ayuyus will go all out in every game.
“Definitely, we will give every opponent a strong competition. We've been preparing hard for this tournament and this is the time to show what we've been working on for the past several months. There's no turning back,” said Koo in an interview with Saipan Tribune last Thursday during the send-off dinner for the team at Kanoa Resort.
Tan was also present at the send-off ceremony and said that regardless of the results of the CNMI's games in the qualifier, he believes that AFC will appreciate the CNMI/NMIFA's effort on forming a formidable team to compete in a high-level tournament.
“We are the 'baby' in AFC, but with our men's team competing in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifier, we are able to prove we our capable of building and preparing a team to compete in the AFC. Our participation in Nepal shows our commitment to AFC and its program. The tournament in Nepal is only one of the many AFC tournaments we will be competing in,” Tan said.