The CNMI U19 Women’s National Team is heading to China next week for the AFC U19 Women’s Championship 2017 Qualifier with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“This is the first time that we will be competing in the girls U19 age group and also the first time that we will be facing Australia and Jordan, which are considered as tough teams in this tournament. Our chances of winning may not be that high, but the opportunities to learn from these teams are great,” said head coach Luam Khen Koo during a send-off ceremony for the CNMI crew.
The Commonwealth, Australia, and Jordan are in Group A of the qualifying tournament that will be held in Nanjing from Nov. 2 to 5. The three squads will battle for a slot to the AFC U19 Women’s Championship 2017 Finals, which will also take place in China. Three other groups will have their separate qualifiers for the right to join early finalists South and North Korea, Japan, and China in next year’s contest.
For the the Group A qualifier, the CNMI is sending an 18-player field made up of captains Chloe Salvosa and Dianne Pablo, goalies Chevy Kate Alipio, Carla Ballesteros, and Toremy Diaz, defenders Elaine Enriquez, Krizel Tuazon, De Jana Muna, Samantha Manacop, Grace Choi, Pinyarat Shankweiler, Anela Duenas, Bernadette Horey, midfielders Diana Maniacop, Lyka Sally, and Jasmina Phan, and forwards Angelica Sally and Guinevere Borja. Assistant coaches Jimmy Tang and Lalaine Pagarao, physiotherapist Pam Carhill, team manager Mikky Vargas and officials Yu Hung Lee and Longwen Ji completed the CNMI delegation.
“This will probably be the most difficult tournament that we will be in as we will be up against older, bigger, better, and more experienced players from Australia and Jordan. Having said that, matches against these teams will also give us the best opportunity to learn and experience how is it to play at this high level and what we need to work on in our game to get closer to their level,” said Borja, who is among the many U15 players suiting up for the U19 squad.
“We are a young team and our motivation is to watch and learn from every tournament we will be competing in. We just have to keep that positive mentality and continue to work on developing our skills by playing against tough teams,” the youth player added.
Northern Mariana Islands Football Association president Jerry Tan, who was among the officials present at the send-off ceremony yesterday at the Kanoa Resort, said the team is not pressured to win or even score against Australia and Jordan. However, he expects the players to pick up every techniques and skills they could get from the tournament and be inspired to train and worker harder when they get back to the island.
The NMIFA head added that the organization through the help of Asian Football Confederation and other supporters will take every opportunity (to play in international tournaments) given to CNMI national teams.
“We are not afraid to join tournaments or turn down invitations to play in AFC events. Playing outside the CNMI is one of the best ways to develop not only our players, but also our coaches,” Tan said.
The Group A qualifier only has three teams after Singapore and Lebanon pulled out, while a neutral host was selected, as no country from the same pool offered to have the event in their turf. With a neutral host, teams are required to pay additional fees and Singapore and Lebanon withdrew due to funding problems. A few more countries from the three other groups also backed out from the qualifying tournaments.
“We still decided to go ahead with the competition because we are committed to the program. We can’t deny our players the exposure and experience to play against extremely tough teams like Australia and Jordan. We want to maximize the opportunities presented to us as we have a lot of catching up to do with other countries, which have been playing soccer for decades,” Tan said.
NMIFA vice president Vickie Izuka and Executive Committee members Patricia Coleman and Norman Del Rosario joined Tan, the players’ parents, officials of NMIFA-member clubs, and other team supporters in sending their best wishes to the China-bound Commonwealth squad. The CNMI bets will leave Saipan on Oct. 28.