8 Jul 2015

Micronesian footballers look ahead after brutal initiation

11:16 am on 8 July 2015

They were always going to be the underdogs. Many of them are teenagers, some of them playing on an eleven-a-side pitch for the first time, coming up against regional heavyweights at the Pacific Games.

In their opening match in Port Moresby the Federated States of Micronesia football team were thrashed 30-0 by Tahiti. That lop-sided margin equalled the Pacific Games record. Fred Tissot scored six goals in 25 minutes, two other players managed five and Raimanu Tetauira completed a four-minuted hat-trick…all within stoppage time.

At that point the team's coach Stan Foster wasn't even in Papua New Guinea, his arrival delayed by visa issues.

Two days later, the record set by Tahiti was obliterated by Fiji, who put 38 unanswered goals past the hapless Micronesians. The Fijian coach even apologised after the match, admitting he didn't want his team to score so many goals.

Adding to their woes, the team's goalkeeper was forced off with injury midway through the match. His replacement - who normally plays in the outfield - was never going to make much of a difference. Under the barrage of shots and opportunities on goal, even the likes of Thibaut Courtois or David de Gea would have eventually had their defences broken

That result made global headlines in a week where the United States won the Women's World Cup and Argentina were upset in the Copa America final. For a moment, the tiny Federated States of Micronesia, population just over 100,000, was the talk of world football, just not in the way they would have hoped.

The Federation States of Micronesia play Fiji at the Pacific Games. They lost this game 38-0.

The Federation States of Micronesia play Fiji at the Pacific Games. They lost this game 38-0. Photo: Pacific Games News Service

By Tuesday, the only thing in question ahead of their final group match against Vanuatu was how many goals they would concede. The Melanesians needed to win big in order to have any hope of joining Tahiti in the semi-finals, and they didn't muck around.

The Cyclones scored four goals in the first six minutes and were 24 points ahead by half-time. The biggest shock of the afternoon was the 15-minute drought between the 42nd and 43rd strikes, late in the second half. Even the official game scorer found things difficult as he vanished from his chair for a few minutes, raising doubts about whether anyone actually knew the correct score. But after three goals were added by Abraham Roqara in the game's dying minutes, the official full time score was an astonishing 46-0. Jean Kultack alone scored 16 - eight in each half. It was a new Pacific Games record.

Head coach Stan Foster spent the entire match at the edge of his technical area encouraging his players, telling them to hang in there. Scolding them for not tracking their opponents or switching off at key moments. Such was Vanuatu's dominance, Foster's glare rarely crossed into the field's other half.

The Federated States of Micronesia play Vanuatu at the Pacific Games on Tuesday. They lost 46-0

The Federated States of Micronesia play Vanuatu at the Pacific Games on Tuesday. They lost 46-0 Photo: Pacific Games News Service

By the end of the group stage, Federated States of Micronesia had conceded 114 goals in three matches. But despite the massive score-lines, Stan Foster believes the team's time in Papua New Guinea was an invaluable learning experience.

"It's been very challenging, but also a big step for us guys to learn things from," he said in a post-match interview. "That's what we came here for. We didn't have high expectations.

"These are a team of boys and they're playing against men," he said, already looking to the future. "This is a development squad and I'm looking for the next two Pacific Games before we're competitive - but the makings are there. If we just to stick to our development I'm sure we can join the other teams."

To describe the Federated States of Micronesia players as raw would be, in many respects, extremely generous.

Vanuatu's leading goalscorer against FSM, Jean Kaltack.

Vanuatu's leading goalscorer against FSM, Jean Kaltack. Photo: Pacific Games News Service

Stan Foster said the bulk of his team had been playing in seven-a-side leagues back at home, and the Pacific Games was the first time many of them had played on a full eleven-a-side pitch.

"Most of these [players] are in their late teenage years and that's why I selected this team. A bit of criticism I got before we left was [for] picking a younger squad, but it's no use picking older players who won't be around for the next four [years] so I wanted these ones here for the next eight.

"Most of them have never been out of their villages let alone onto another island. I took them to Guam the other day [and it was] the first time they've been on an elevator or an escalator. It's been a huge step-up for these guys and they've just been overawed really."

Foster said that prior to the team's departure, he told the players to expect criticism, but to just do their best and not worry about the score.

"Physically they're up for it. They're the perfect size for it. They've got some great athleticism but they just need the coaching side of it at grassroots level to build that baseline."

The Federated States of Micronesia football team

The Federated States of Micronesia football team Photo: Pacific Games News Service

The Federated States of Micronesia doesn't have a senior national team. Officials from FIFA are scheduled to arrive in the country within the next week to assess its bid to become a full member of the sport's world governing body.

Stan Foster says the team has taken inspiration from Guam, another Micronesian island to the east of FSM, whose senior men's team last month defied a lowly ranking of 174 to win back-to-back World Cup qualifiers against Turkmenistan and India to go to the top of their group in Asian qualifying.

But for now, it's small steps. Foster said that for a time he was taking two coaching sessions a day, five days a week: 12-year-olds, 14-year-olds, and so on. In time, he says, some of those players might graduate to the Under 23 Olympics squad, and if FSM gets its wish, a full national team.

He says Federated States of Micronesia will be back at the next Pacific Games in Tonga. Could they win a game in 2019?

"That will be for the future to see."

Radio New Zealand International's Vinnie Wylie is in Port Moresby and will be providing updates from the 2015 Pacific Games on Twitter: @RNZISport

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