The debut performance by the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) national team in an official Asian Football Confederation (AFC) championship was not auspicious.
The CNMI team lost all of their games against in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers in Nepal.
In those three defeats, CNMI conceded a total of 18 goals and scored none, providing a daunting return to international football management for former Malaysian international Koo Luam Khen (pictured above), who here reflects on his experiences with the Blue Ayuyus squad in the AFC Challenge Cup Nepal.
Q: What other national teams have you coached?
A: From 1990 to 1994 I was the Coach for Hong Kong National Team and the HK League Eleventh (All Stars) in the Chinese New Year Exhibition games.
Q: How did you get the job managing the CNMI team?
A: Chelsea Soccer School HK has been working closely with the Saipan Soccer School to develop soccer in the CNMI for nearly two years. Jerry Tan, as the President of NMIFA, asked me to help out with the men's national team.
Q: What were you doing directly before taking the CNMI team to Nepal?
A: I am the Technical Director in the Chelsea Soccer School HK. I have been playing and coaching in Hong Kong with various teams and levels since 1972.
Q: CNMI lost 6-0 in their opener to Nepal. Was playing the hosts a difficult start?
A: In any international competition, playing the host nation in the opening match can have a negative impact on the visiting team. And because the CNMI team is such an inexperienced team, the added pressure was even greater for us against Nepal.
Q: Against Palestine in the second game, the score-line was even greater at 9-0. Did you change your tactics for this game?
A: Palestine was the strongest team in the group. The idea tactically going into the game was to be more defense-minded, sit-back and to look to counter-attack on offense when the opportunities come our way. We had a couple of counter-attack chances, but just weren't able to convert.
Q: In your final game against Bangladesh, CNMI again conceded early. Was this due to inexperience?
A: Actually, we were unlucky to concede early goals in all three matches. But yes, all our players are inexperienced and not used to the pace of play at this level of competition and they lost concentration easily.
Q: What did the CNMI squad learn from the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers?
A: To perform well in this level, fitness and experience is the biggest issue for our team. We also learned, especially for our off-island players that we need to spend more time together. All the players of the final team roster got together only five days before the 1st game. Still, our young players picked-up first hand international competition experience and will be able to bring back this experience to the island, which will be very useful toward the development of the sport.
Q: Can CNMI become full members of the AFC?
A: I think there is very realistic possibility for the Northern Mariana Islands to become a full member of the Asian Football Confederation. Although the NMIFA represents a small territory and is very new to soccer world, we prepared and worked the hardest we could and football is incredibly popular in the islands - especially in the younger kids.
Q: Would you manage the Blue Ayuyus again?
A: As I said I have been helping to develop soccer in the islands over the past couple of years and I am a football man. I will help if I am asked.