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THE Matao, Guam's men’s national soccer team, set foot for the first time in Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City Sunday evening, getting a feel for the venue of what may be the team’s biggest international game to date.
The Matao will take on the Azkals, the pride of Philippine football, in the same stadium many Filipinos remember a 2-0 monumental win over Mongolia in the first leg of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualifier. The Philippines went on to qualify for the tournament and finished in third place overall. During that successful run, the Azkals lifted the Philippines almost 20 places in FIFA rankings.
Although considered a friendly match, the outcome may affect Guam’s place in the FIFA world rankings. Guam currently is No. 194 and the Philippines No. 149, the FIFA website states. The match takes place today, which coincides with Philippine Independence Day.
“We feel very welcome here in Bacolod and for me personally, it makes me more anxious to play against the Azkals,” said Anthony Paulino, a Matao midfielder/defender who will enter the University of Washington in the fall. “I expect the match to be very competitive and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Matao had its first training session in the stadium in front of dozens of curious residents who, after the session, lined up to take photos and request autographs from the team. For one lucky fan, head coach Gary White and the team rewarded her persistence for a souvenir with an autographed ball. The Bacolod City resident stated she would give the ball as a gift to her brother, who is a very big fan of football.
White also was interviewed by an ABS-CBN correspondent. The news group also stayed during the session to take video footage of the Guam team.
Later in the evening, White was approached by a reporter from the Philippine Inquirer for an impromptu interview.
The Matao had one rest day before the big game tonight. Posters advertising the match line the main streets in Bacolod City, as the media hype continues to grow for the match. The Azkals are coming off two draws in friendly matches against Malaysia and Indonesia in a week’s time. Philippine coach Michael Weiss has been quoted in Philippine media as saying he will start his “top team” against Guam following his team’s draw against Indonesia June 5.
Also slated for the Matao during its weeklong training trip are matches against Global FC and the Stallions, two professional football clubs in the Philippines’ United Football League, June 14 and 16, respectively.
(Information obtained from a press release.)