The CNMI Men’s National Team hit the board in its final game and denied Macau the win in the EAFF E-1 Football Championships 2019 Round 1 yesterday at the Mongolian Football Federation Stadium in Ulan Bator.
Sunjoon Tenorio scored the goal for the Blue Ayuyus in the 33rd minute of the match that could have gone to the CNMI’s way if not for a controversial play midway in the first half.
The questionable play started with the ball going out of bounds after it hit the head of Macau’s Ka Hou Lei, as he and Tenorio battled for the leather. The CNMI got the possession and Ryan Relucio rolled the ball over to position it and get ready for a kick. However, Anthony Fruit went for an indirect short forward kick in front of Macau captain Ka Seng Lam, who stole the ball, catching the former and Relucio off guard, as the two CNMI players and the rest of the Blue Ayuyus thought the referee should have blown the whistle to stop the play due to Lam’s violation.
The game continued with Lam dribbling forward and then feeding streaking Ka Hang Leong for the cross from the right field. Enrico Del Rosario tried to sneak in and stop Leong, while Hark Galarion also rushed into the play to deflect the attempt, and goalie Chris Aninzo was the last line on defense, as he dove for a save, but missed the ball, allowing Macau to take the lead at the 20th minute mark of the closely fought game. After the contested goal, CNMI captain Jonathan Takano approached the referee, explaining that the play should have been halted, as Relucio did not make a pass and just positioned the ball. However, the game official saw otherwise and Macau’s goal stayed.
Other CNMI players also swarmed the game official, but then quickly moved on and were even more determined to bounce back from the dubious non-call. The Blue Ayuyus remained aggressive both on offense and defense and 13 minutes later, their persistence was rewarded with Tenorio scoring. The game-tying goal was made possible after Galarion went for a long kick from the penalty box and the ball dropped just way past the center with Takano stopping it with a header. The ball then rolled down with another CNMI player getting it and passing the leather to Tenorio. Tenorio dribbled forward and hopped away from a phalanx of Macau defenders before letting go a cross from the right field ahead of Macau goalie Hou Weng Lo, who moved in a little too late, trying to prevent the CNMI forward from scoring.
Celebration broke after Tenorio’s equalizer, as his teammates mobbed him, while the coaching staff, officials, and players on the bench rose in jest. The Blue Ayuyus then rode on the momentum of Tenorio’s shot to keep Macau from scoring and force a draw against the team that shut down Guam last Tuesday.
After holding Macau to a standoff despite the controversial goal earlier, CNMI head coach Michiteru had all praises to his players and coaching staff.
“I am very proud of my boys, they played a great game today (yesterday). It was a winning game. There was an unlucky referee’s decision, but boys played their 100 percent in this match. I would like to congratulate all my boys and my coaching staff,” Mita said.
“We kept doing the right things and prepared for each match very seriously. We just did not get good results in the first two matches. It was especially a very hard time for us after the defeat against Mongolia, but we did not quit and give up. We wanted to show our best game today. Then the boys made it happen. Every match, the boys understand we are the underdogs and players help each player. Today (yesterday), the boys did not stop running for 90 minutes and all the players, from the starting 11 to the substitutes, worked for the team. So, I’m very happy we got good results today. Most of players are young and we need these results to gain confidence,” he added.