PRESS RELEASE – The Matao, Guam men’s national football team, took advantage of defensive infractions by the Northern Mariana Islands team to prevail 3-1 on opening day of the East Asian Cup preliminary competition Wednesday at Leo Palace Resort Guam.
The defense-minded NMI team gave up most ball possession to the Matao but also stubbornly prevented quality shots on goal by its southern neighbors.
“It’s difficult to break down 11 players behind the ball,” said Matao head coach Gary White after the game. “It gets frustrating and there isn’t much free-flowing action.”
The Matao’s frustration started early. In the 18th minute, the NMI team managed to fully control the ball and send a long pass to a charging Joe Miller. Miller, moving through Guam’s defense with teammate Peter Benjamin Loken, was able to get the ball close to the edge of the penalty box before he was fouled and taken down. Miller took the free kick and lobbed his shot over the Matao wall with enough arch for the game’s first goal, much to the enjoyment of NMI spectators.
The NMI advantage was short-lived as captain Jason Cunliffe pulled through for the Matao with a successful free kick that curved around NMI’s wall for the equalizer before the halftime whistle.
Both teams increased the aggression in the second half, resulting in several fouls called and three yellow cards between them. The Matao broke the 1-1 tie in the 66th minute with another Cunliffe free kick that found its way to the back of the net.
NMI almost equalized the game on the ensuing kick off when Miller blasted the ball from the centerline straight to the goal. Matao goalkeeper Dallas Jaye back pedaled fast enough to leap in front of the goal line and push the ball up and over the cross bar.
The Matao wouldn’t add its third goal until the 90th minute. A handball violation in the box was called on an NMI defender and a penalty kick was awarded to the Matao. Cunliffe didn’t disappoint and completed a hat trick before the final whistle.
“Going into the game, I told the guys to expect a battle against a hardworking and organized (NMI) team for a full 90 minutes,” said Cunliffe. “We were dominating possession for most of the game and yes, there was a bit of frustration on shots. We just had to trust the system in the course of 90 minutes.”
The weeklong EAFF tournaments – the East Asian Cup and the Women’s East Asian cup, continues with the CNMI women taking to the pitch against Hong Kong today and their male counterparts face off against Macau Friday.
Guam next plays Saturday at 4 p.m. when the Masakåda take on Hong Kong in the final match of the Women’s East Asian Cup. The Matao play the competition’s final match against Macau Sunday at 4 p.m.
Admission is free and the community is invited to watch all games. Bleachers with canopies have been set up to accommodate spectators.
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