Young Micronesian soccer side overwhelmed at Pacific Games
The players were mostly teenagers, many of them away from their villages in the Federated States of Micronesia for the first time. And as it turned out, on the steepest of learning curves in the Pacific Games soccer tournament in Papua New Guinea.
The Micronesians lost the third of their three matches at the Pacific Games 46-0 to Vanuatu on Tuesday. That was preceded by a 38-0 loss to Fiji and a 30-0 defeat to Tahiti - 114 goals in three matches. Jean Kaltak scored 16 goals for Vanuatu which scored at the rate of a goal every two minutes.
Micronesia coach Stan Foster said he wasn't surprised by the results.
''Most of these guys are in their late teenage years and that's why I selected this team,'' Foster told Radio New Zealand in Port Moresby, the Papua New Guinean capital, after the Vanuatu loss. ''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).''
''Most of them have never been out of their villages let alone on to 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.''
Those villages Foster refers to are on four island states spread across 100 kilometers (60 miles) in the western Pacific Ocean - Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. They sit about 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) north of the eastern Australian coast and about 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) southwest of the main islands of Hawaii.
The islands, which use American currency because it is a U.S. ''associated state,'' have no organized football and often only get practice matches against teams from visiting ships. They are not a member of the Oceania confederation or FIFA, so their only funding to help develop their approximate 500 players, mostly from school teams, comes from international agencies like the U.N.
Foster said most of his team played in only seven-a-side teams and that the Pacific Games marked the first time many of them played on a pitch with 11 players.
The Pacific Games is an under-23 tournament, so the scores won't count as any type of international record for most goals scored in a match. That mark still belongs to Australia: Archie Thompson scored 13 goals when the Socceroos beat American Samoa 31-0 in 2001 in an Oceania qualifying match for the 2002 World Cup.
Social media wasn't around in 2001 to help spread news of the big Australian win, and predictably Twitter was active with news of the huge Micronesian losses. The official Pacific Games website even re-tweeted a note from a New Zealand radio network which pointed out that Micronesia conceded more goals in three matches than Lionel Messi has scored in the past two years (84).
''These are a team of boys and they're playing against men,'' Foster said after his team's final lopsided loss. ''But the makings are there. If we just to stick to our development I'm sure we can join the other teams.''
''We didn't have high expectations,'' Foster added, admitting that he told his players before they left they left not to worry about the scores of any of their matches.
Which, as it turned out, was probably a good thing.