A trip of a lifetime
Guam’s national team has travelled all over the planet to fulfil its fixtures
“We flew one and a half times round the world and when we got back, some of the boys said they didn’t want to go anywhere again” Tino San Gil, Guam Football Association president
The COVID-19 pandemic provoked an unprecedented disruption to World Cup qualifying but none of the FIFA member nations have gone through anything like Guam.
“We’ve already played the World Cup; we’ve been around the world,” laughs Guam Football Association (GFA) president Tino San Gil.
After thrashing Bhutan 5-1 in the first round, the US territory from the Western Pacific were drawn in Group A with Syria, China, the Maldives and the Philippines in what were due to be home and away games.
Guam started in Autumn 2019 and had played and lost their first five qualifiers before the pandemic struck in March 2020. The Guam Soccer League was suspended and all13 clubs have only been able to train ever since, but the national team – known as the Matao – still had three more World Cup qualifiers to fulfil. A centralised tournament in China was proposed and Guam were drawn to play the hosts in the first game on May 30, 2021.
“Normally we’d fly via Japan but there were no flights, so we had to go via San Francisco,” says San Gil, taking up the story. “Then four days before we were due to go, Chinese health officials said that five of our players who’d had COVID in 2020 and were fully vaccinated could not arrive on that commercial flight. They had to go on a charter flight.”
The five players would all have been in Guam’s starting XI and the GFA objected. Eventually, the Chinese authorities agreed to pay for a charter flight from Dubai. The GFA got their five players to Dubai, where they were due to share the charter with the Syrian, Filipino and Maldivian players and officials.
Then some players from all four countries tested positive for coronavirus in Dubai. The results were disputed but the charter flight never took off. The16 Guam players had arrived in Suzhou and played China, losing 7-0.
To resolve the impasse, the Chinese authorities then flew the rump of the Guam squad and their own players to Dubai to join the teams from Syria, the Philippines and the Maldives and play the games in Sharjah.
Guam opened with a respectable 3-0 defeat to top seeds Syria. “Some guy got really angry saying how could you lose 7-0 to China but 3-0 to the top seeds and that he’d lost money because of us,” says San Gil.
Guam lost by the same score to the Philippines and then went home but, due to flight availability, this time via San Francisco. “We flew one and a half times round the world and when we got back, some of the boys said they didn’t want to go anywhere again,” says Guam’s president.
Unfortunately, in October Guam had 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers with Cambodia to fulfil.
Guam could host but Cambodia was in lockdown. So the games were again shifted to the Middle East, this time to Bahrain. To get there, the Matao flew first to Hawaii, then Los Angeles, Istanbul and Bahrain, where they lost 3-1 on aggregate.
Guam’s next games should be the 2022 East Asian Football Federation Championship qualifiers with China, Hong Kong and Macau, where the away legs would involve a 21-day quarantine.
But the tournament is on hold, giving Guam’s footballers a break from the arduous task of fulfilling international fixtures.