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Trouble in paradise as Guam players threaten strike


Tokyo (AFP) – Guam’s footballers could go on strike after the palm-fringed Pacific island voted to withdraw its national side from the final round of Asian Cup qualifiers.

The Guam Football Association have blamed the bombshell decision made late last month on “financial constraints” but long-serving captain Jason Cunliffe slammed the move, telling AFP the players may respond by downing tools.

“Absolutely we are considering not playing,” the 33-year-old forward said in a telephone interview.

“Obviously with the blatant disrespect that they’ve shown us, that’s definitely something we’re considering.

“It’s a joke, it came completely out of the blue,” added Cunliffe, the tiny nation’s record goalscorer. 

“The players are devastated. People who know nothing about the game are making the big decisions for Guam football.”

Once the whipping boys of Asian football, the tiny honeymoon island struck a blow for the underdog by reaching the final round of Asian Cup qualifiers last year.

More famous for its sun-kissed beaches and coral reefs, Guam’s giant-killing antics under their former English coach Gary White saw them finish fourth in their group in the second round of Asia’s World Cup qualifiers.

Guam, with a population of just 170,000 and ranked 182nd in the world, consistently punched above their weight, beating Turkmenistan and India, a country of 1.2 billion.

Cunliffe revealed that senior players had approached former United States forward Landon Donovan about coaching the team to help generate extra sponsorship revenue.

But despite meeting Guam football chief Richard Lai for emergency talks, Cunliffe said no formal offer materialised before the January 9 deadline to withdraw from the Asian Cup qualifiers.

– ‘Looking for excuses’ –

“They were basically looking for every excuse for why it couldn’t work,” said Cunliffe, still clinging to the hope of a dramatic late reversal before the January 23 draw.

“Having your national team play in the region’s biggest tournament should be what you strive for, not pulling out the one time you actually have the chance to qualify.”

Lai was not immediately available for comment.

However, in a press release he claimed Guam could not afford the estimated $1.2 million it would cost to compete in the Asian Cup qualifiers and would focus on investing in youth and grassroots football.

Cunliffe fumed: “Youth development and investing in your full national team, which is the pinnacle of international football, shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.”

Several senior Guam players now look set to be denied the opportunity of playing in another major tournament.

“We went out and asked guys like A.J. (DeLaGarza) to take a chance and help us grow the game in Guam,” said Cunliffe. 

“Then you literally pull the rug out from under them, guys who gave up any chance of playing for the United States,” he added. 

“He’s 29 and you’re telling him the next big tournament you could qualify for would be the 2022 World Cup — I’m embarrassed.”

Cunliffe admits his stance could spell the end of his international career.

“I would not be surprised,” he said. “But I’ll bite that bullet. If I don’t speak up then it won’t change — even if it takes us going on strike.”

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