The NMI U17 Men’s National Soccer Team was sent off with good luck and well wishes last Thursday at the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville for its trip to Shepparton, Australia.
The team will compete in the Asian Football Confederation U17 Asian Cup Qualifiers from Oct. 5, to 9, 2022. They flew out and began their 50-hour transit last Friday, Oct. 1, and will return on Wednesday, Oct. 12.
The NMI delegation is in Group G and will have three matches. The first team they will go up against is home team Australia, on Wednesday, Oct. 5. They will then square off against two-time AFC U17 champions China on Friday, Oct. 7. The NMI concludes their campaign against Cambodia on Sunday, Oct. 9.
The team members include Edward Arriola III, Anthony Austria, Anthony John Bergancia, Casey Wayne Chambers, Mark Jainier Chavez, Monico Claridades, Mark Ryan Costales, Leland Isaiah Deleon Guerrero, Ruben Antonio Guerrero, Takeru William Jim, Wataru Kadokura, Zhi Xiang Lin, Miles Thomas Linden, Jack Paul Lizama, Paul Anthony Lizama, Philip Alexander Megino, Jonne Alvey Navarro, Nolan Manuel Ngewakl, Tyler Wess Omelau, Tristan Edward Raho, Vicente Jose Reyes, Cody Shimizu, and Markus Joaquin Toves.
Eight of the 23 U17 players were in the U20 delegation sent to Amman, Jordan last month.
They will be joined by head coach Michiteru Mita, team manager; Mikky Vargas, assistant coach Jershwin Angeles, team doctor Hazel Leoncio Mabasa, assistant team manager Christopher Dela Rosa Aninzo, kit manager Ronnel Ocanada, and technical analyst Lalaine Pagarao.
In attendance during the send-off were Northern Mariana Islands Football Association president Jerry Tan, NMIFA Executive Committee member Catherine Attao-Toves, NMIFA board members, CNMI Public School System representatives, and family and friends of the team.
Tan gave a speech in which he said that he knows the long travel time is a disadvantage compared to those who live nearby the competition venue. However, with the competition in Australia, the time is just one hour ahead of Saipan, so family and friends are able to watch their matches in real time.
“I’m always excited about [the] send-off ceremony, because it is not just one competition—it is not just the ceremony today. It is years and years and years of hard work and support from all of you. And coaching by all the coaches and hard work by all the players. So I would like to congratulate the 23 players for being selected…to the Australia AFC U17 qualifier representing NMI.”
“It is very, very important that we allow our players to go out and be exposed to what is international soccer. I’m not sure that people realize how rare it is, the opportunity to play against the Chinese National Team… It’s so important for them to be exposed and to learn the high level of soccer that [is] being played internationally. We are playing against World Cup countries so this is why it is so exciting… We’re the youngest football association in the world. In AFC, probably one of the smallest if not the smallest member as well.
So every tournament is a learning experience… This is why I’m so happy to be able to witness the program. Many of you started when you were 6 or 8 [years old] and today you are actually representing NMI… and this will probably be one of the many tournaments you will be joining and representing NMI in the coming years. This is only the beginning so that’s very exciting and we’re very happy for you. So, I just want to wish you good luck,” said Tan.
Mita also thanked everyone in attendance and said about the team that “it is a very good opportunity…We are very lucky, we have to appreciate this opportunity…Thanks for the continuous support. Without your support, the boys cannot be here. It’s a big challenge but every match [we’ll] take very seriously and we have nothing to lose—no pressure. We’re just going to keep fighting and we’re [going] to do our best.”
There are 43 countries vying for a slot into the 2023 AFC U17 Asian Cup in Bahrain. They are divided into five groups of four, four groups of five, and one group of three, with 10 group winners and six best runners-up.
The qualifiers kicked off last Friday at 4:30pm against Group A teams Turkmenistan and Philippines at the Prince Mohammad Stadium in Amman, Jordan.