By Roselyn B. Monroyo
Variety News Staff
THE NMI has been invited to compete in official games of two EAFF-sanctioned tournaments despite its associate member status with the East Asian Football Federation.
At the EAFF executive committee meeting in Mongolia early this month, the federation invited the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association to send a 14-and-under team to a tournament in Beijing next year and compete against China, Chinese-Taipei, Guam, Japan, Hong Kong, Macao, Mongolia and South and North Koreas.
This is the second time that the NMI has been invited to field a team in the youth soccer tournament. Last year, the NMI youth strikers went to Beijing and played in exhibition games, but next year, they will play in official matches.
NMI coach and NMIFA technical director Jason Higgins will be in charge of forming a 14-and-under team for the Beijing tournament.
In the same executive committee meeting, the NMI was invited to field a team in a tournament in 2009 and challenge Guam, Mongolia and Macao.
In addition to playing in the 2009 meet, the NMI could also bid to host the tournament.
“It is a good news for the Men’s Nationals, as they don’t have to play Guam in the qualifier. The team is given an outright slot in the tournament and they will focus now their preparation on the tournament instead of beating Guam first in the qualifier,” Higgins.
Not to be left out are the NMI female strikers, who are invited to duel the Guam National team in the EAFF preliminaries starting in 2009.
“It’s a step forward for the women’s strikers, as this time they will face Guam in an official EAFF tournament,” Higgins said.
The EAAF event is the same qualifier that had the NMI Men’s Nationals colliding with the Guam Nationals early this year. The NMI and Guam strikers played two games in the preliminaries with the latter prevailing in both matches.
While the NMI’s Men’s Nationals were battling Guam for slots in the next round of the EAAF tournament, the commonwealth’s female strikers were dueling their neighbor island in a couple of exhibition matches here and on Guam.
The NMI and Guam’s female strikers slugged it out in the first-ever Marianas Cup, which the latter hosted and won in the first quarter of this year. Next spring, the NMI will be hosting the second edition of the annual event and Higgins is expected to form the team soon in order to have more time to prepare for a rematch with Guam.
Higgins has already formed the NMI Men’s Nationals naming 17 strikers to the team.
They have been practicing for more than a month and playing exhibition matches every Sunday against various men’s clubs on the island.
The NMI coach is preparing the Men’s Nationals for the Marianas Cup next spring.
Meanwhile, NMIFA president Jerry Tan, who attended the executive committee meeting in Mongolia, is pleased with the latest developments in NMI soccer and its continuing involvement with EAAF.
He said these developments will be a big boost to the NMI’s football programs and he thanked parents, officials, volunteers, coaches and players for helping out in the promotion of the sport in the commonwealth.