The CNMI is hoping to close the season with a bang as it competes in the AFC U16 Qualifying Tournament in Wuhan, China this week.
“We want to walk out of this AFC event with a positive result,” Northern Mariana Islands Football Association technical director and CNMI U16 National Team coach Johann Noetzel said in an interview with Saipan Tribune last Friday during the send-off event for the squad at the Kanoa Resort.
The qualifier is the Commonwealth’s fourth and last AFC event for this year and the task of giving the CNMI a strong finish lay on the shoulder of the 20-player roster of the Teen Ayuyus. The CNMI U16 National Team is composed of William Hinson II, Kennedy Izuka, Ryan and Reniel Relucio, Joel Fruit, Ryu Tanzawa, Carlson Cruzat, Kenneth Mafnas, Jordan Butcher, Won Young Kim, Julian Pellegrino, Joshua Galario, Deng Jin Hui, Aaron Lee, Green Vidal, John Masga, Ivan Seo, Evan Belcher, and David Yang.
The Teen Ayuyus along with Noetzel, assistant coach Jersh Angeles, team manager Wesley Bogdan, equipment manager Gigi Zapanta, physiotherapist Pam Carhill of Marianas Health Service, and delegation head and NMIFA treasurer Elna Curate left Saipan for China yesterday and they are expected to arrive in Wuhan late last night or three days before the qualifier starts on Wednesday.
In China, the CNMI players will be playing in the Group I qualifier against the host, North Korea, and Myanmar. The Teen Ayuyus will debut against China before challenging North Korea and Myanmar on Sept. 27 and 29. The top finisher in Group I and nine other pools and the best five runners-up will join host Thailand in next year’s competition in Bangkok.
“We will be facing three tough opponents and we will push the boys to play quality games for the whole 90 minutes (each match). They are doing great are healing well after getting injured during the preparation for the U18 tournament in Guam,” Noetzel said.
Meanwhile, NMIFA president joined other football officials and the players’ parents and supporters in the send-off ceremony last weekend.
“This is our fifth send-off (including the one for the EAFF tournament in Guam last month) for our CNMI teams this year and every time we do this we are happy to have the opportunity to organize a team and send our players to compete in an off-island tournament like the AFC U16 qualifier in Wuhan,” Tan said.
“So when you go to Wuhan and see AFC officials, say thank you to them. With their kindness, we are able to compete against our peers and see how far we have gone in developing our players’ skills. Through their help, we will be able to get more invitations and some if not most of you will have another chance to play for the CNMI National Team in the future,” Tan added.
The NMIFA head also reminded the players of the pride and privilege of playing for the CNMI, saying these should motivate the Teen Ayuyus to put on a good show in the qualifier.
“When you go out there, you are not playing for yourself or for your clubs, you are playing for your flag, for the CNMI flag, so do your best in representing the Commonwealth. Be a good model on and off the pitch,” Tan said.