The CNMI proved to Brunei that it’s no pushover during the opening game in Group G of the Asian Football Confederation U19 Championship 2020 Qualifiers last Saturday in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The Sunjoon Tenorio-captained CNMI Boys U19 National Team gave Brunei a scare before the latter escaped with a 4-3 victory in the curtain-raiser at the National Olympic Stadium.
Tenorio scored two goals, including the Teen Ayuyus’ last in the first minute of extra time or just when Brunei was confident enough that it had the game in the bag after Naquiddin Abdullah’s goal in the 90th gave the squad a 4-2 advantage. Abdullah went for a long shot and goalie Merrick Toves leapt to catch the ball with one Brunei player also jumping in trying to go for a header, but did not need one, as the NMI goalie had butterfingers and failed to push the ball out.
After Abdullah’s shot, the NMI countered right away with Taka Borja sending a long pass to a sprinting Tenorio, who had two defenders on his sides plus Brunei goalie Riyan Aiman. The keeper, suddenly, just stood there, not anticipating a quick release from Tenorio, while the two other Brunei defenders were also caught off guard.
Fortunately for Brunei, after Tenorio’s goal moved the CNMI within one, the Michiteru Mita-coached squad did not have enough time to make one final push for a draw, as there were only four minutes left in the close game.
“Our first match against Brunei was an exciting one. The boys battled hard to get the win,” team manager Ruselle Zapanta said.
The CNMI forced Brunei to a standoff after the first half, 2-2. Midfielder Mohammad Eddy Shahrol drew first blood for Brunei in the 12th minute, while an own goal in the 32nd allowed the Commonwealth to knot the count. Forward Mohammad Aminuddin broke the deadlock eight minutes later, but Tenorio answered back in the 42nd to tie the game anew.
Mohammad Hadif Aiman then regained the lead for Brunei in the 69th minute before Abdullah’s chip eventually gave them the insurance against the persistent Teen Ayuyus, who took a lot of positives from their opener.
“The team environment has been great and things are positive despite the loss to Brunei. Tomorrow (today) will be another battle and the competition will only get harder,” he added.
The Teen Ayuyus will face host Cambodia tonight and the close match against Brunei was what they needed to boost their confidence, as they brace for a series of tough games, starting today. The CNMI-Cambodia match is set for 6:30pm (9:30pm Saipan time).
Meanwhile, Malaysia edged Cambodia in the other game last Saturday, 5-4, and drew a bye for today’s pair of matches. The other tiff tonight will have Thailand playing its first game in the qualifier against Brunei at 3:30pm (6:30pm Saipan time).