THE TINY Pacific nation of Guam is in the football fight of its life heading into a crunch match against the goal-hungry Socceroos in Friday’s East Asian Cup qualifier.
With no chance of qualifying themselves, the Matao will have to hold out an Aussie outfit desperate to peg back North Korea's nine-goal advantage.
Guam will be missing key players through suspensions and injury, but head coach Gary White said the 1-1 draw between the Asian heavyweights was the best possible outcome for his youthful squad.
White said: “We watched the game between Australian and North Korea last night and I said to my assistant coach, at least we have something to play for now.
“This game against Australia now means something in terms of the tournament. Now everybody is really watching and it’s a great opportunity for our players to showcase themselves.
“I can tell you there’s no better learning experience for my young players than this game. They will get more out of this game than a 100 training sessions.”
It wasn’t the outcome some in the Guam camp were hoping for but their English coach was looking at the big picture.
“Obviously it’s going to be tough,” he said. “Australia have now got to come out and try and get as many goals as they can because of the goal difference.
“We sat there watching the game yesterday looking at all the different scenarios. Some people looked at it and said, we don’t want a draw because then they’re going to keep coming at us.
“And I said, well at least this draw will put them at their best and show us how far away we are.”
Guam have been far from embarrassed on the big stage, with clear signs their ambitious football development program is reaping rewards.
In the first round White’s players pushed the host nation to the final whistle coming away with a credible 2-1 loss to Hong Kong. The last time the two teams met the Matao was on the end of a 12-0 drubbing.
Backing up against North Korea proved tough, losing 5-0, but the team was headed for their first victory over Chinese Taipei overnight, only to succumb to a last minute equaliser.
White said it was inexperience that told in the end.
“We’ve got an average age of 22 playing against some very experienced Asian footballers in the last couple of games,” he said.
“Even last night our two central defenders were under 20 and our fullback is 17. The guy who scored (Dylan Naputi) is 17.
“We have a population of 200,000 and Taipei has 32 million – it really is a big disparity but in football terms we really closed them down.
“If you said five years ago that you’re going to be absolutely gutted to let a goal in during the last minute of extra time against Chinese Taipei they would have looked at you like you were mental.”
White, who only joined the national team six months ago, said the tournament underlined the huge gains made by Guam football this year.
“When they asked me at the press conference what more I would like from my players I just said, I wish that they were older,” he said.
“I just wished that they had been in that situation a few more times and then they would have known how to deal with it and we would have closed the game off but it’s still a wonderful result for us.”
Guam will face the Socceroos without experienced midfielder Travis Nicklaw and defender Scott Leon Guerrero lost through suspension, while an injury cloud hangs over MLS player Guy Ryan.