Pacific Islanders start East Asian Championship

The East Asian Football Federation's two tiny Pacific Ocean members, Northern Marianas and Guam are matched today to earn the slot in the preliminary round of the 2008 East Asian Football Championship. Northern Marianas will host Guam in Game 1 today, which starts with simple opening ceremonies at 3:30pm, at the Civic Center Field in Oleai then will visit Guam on 1 April for the other half of their playoff match. Officials from the EAFF, led by Alexandre Rigo of Macau and the Asian Football Confederation are on island to observe the match as well as international media and members of the board from the Guam Football Association and the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association. Next week, EAFF president Xie Yalong of China will watch the games on Guam.

“Each team is eager to win in this friendly game. The match will be very competitive. The Northern Marianas is enthusiastic especially they are new, Rigo told Jon Perez of the Saipan Tribune. “Given further preparations and proper training the Northern Marianas and Guam will be more competitive and raise the level of their game in the region.”

NMIFA secretary general Peter Coleman said the event is also big in terms of international exposure. “We have very big people who will be watching us. If we do good job as a provisional member then the EAFF will make a decision to give us full membership and hopefully move us a step closer to getting FIFA accreditation.” Coleman said he is hoping the whole community will show up and support the national team. “This team will play with a lot of heart. A lot of pride is at stake so their skills will be tested. We are rooting for them. I am asking for the community's support. This is a free event. Let us cheer our national players,” he said.

Following the result of this match-off, the preliminary round of the 2008 East Asian Football will be played in two groups: Group A includes North Korea, Mongolia and Macau SAR and Group B includes Hong Kong SAR, Taiwan and either Northern Marianas or Guam.

The match schedule for the preliminary round is:

17 June Guam/Northern Marianas v Taiwan and Macau vs. Mongolia
19 June Hong Kong v Taiwan and North Korea vs. Mongolia
21 June Hong Kong v Guam/Northern Marianas and North Korea v Macau
23 June Play-off for 5th Place
24 June Play-off for 3rd Place and Final