Guam meet Bhutan on the opening global matchday of Qatar 2022 qualifiers
The remote Pacific nation face four days of travel to play the two matches
Guam achieved breakthrough results four years ago
No continent is as diverse or as sprawling as Asia. The world’s most populous region covers a massive area and is home to countless varied cultures.
Guam are about to get a short sharp taste of that next week when they open their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ qualifiers, as Round 1 AFC action kicks off on Thursday. The remote northern Pacific island nation was drawn against Bhutan in April, and it soon became apparent that the football contest is just one part of the challenge.
Guam will leave the cloying humidity of their tropical homeland behind and head for the kingdom perched high up in the Himalayas. There they will find a unique almost magical place, with its distinctive Changlimithang stadium a fitting display of local traditional design (see below).
While the distance from Guam to Bhutan is not huge in relative terms, a lack of regular travel options at either end mean the former’s trip to Thimphu will take the best part of two days. Guam will then have to reprise the trip for the second leg, meaning four days on the road over little more than a week.
In many ways Guam’s colourful opening encounter for Qatar 2022 is in keeping with their tumultuous World Cup history. Guam’s first dip into World Cup waters ended ignominiously with a then-World Cup record 19-0 defeat against IR Iran in 2000.
Yet four years ago they achieved breakthrough success in spectacular fashion. The Matao, a local term among the indigenous CHamoru people, defeated Turkmenistan for their first-ever World Cup win.
As if that wasn’t enough, they then knocked over India – the globe’s second largest nation – to be on top of the five-nation group after two matchdays.
Now the challenge is to maintain that hard-won momentum, as new coach Karl Dodd points out.
“It’s about building on those last qualifiers, but Asia has developed very quickly in a short space of time,” Dodd, who commenced the role in January 2018, told FIFA.com. “Asia has realised there is a lot potential if they can put it all together and teams are training at a lot higher level now.”
Guam have played just three full international matches since the Australian assumed the reins. “Geographically it is expensive to get off the island and play international matches. We have to work through that as best we can, but there is no substitute for the real thing.”
Guam boast a handful of USA-based players, headlined by defender A. J. DeLaGarza, but most of the squad are locally-based amateurs. “That presents its own challenges," continued Dodd. "It is hard to get motivation for something that is ten months away.
“We are looking forward to it that is for sure, because we have been preparing for a very long time. The players have set very high standards, so now the challenge is to put that into action.
“Bhutan is one of the highest stadiums in the world so there are altitude effects to deal with. And we are expecting a big crowd there, so it is a daunting place to go.
“We will have a sports psychologist with us to help the players with coping mechanisms because it is such a rare situation for many of them.
“Then we will come back to Guam where it will be like an oven, so we have two different ends of the spectrum. This is so important because if we win we qualify for Round 2 and are guaranteed eight more matches.
“It is really fascinating in Asia with its diversity and multiple timezones. There is such a distinctiveness and uniqueness and that is why the World Cup is so special.”