The Commonwealth of Northernb Marianas (CNMI) men's national soccer team got a rude awakening when it lost to Fiji 10-0 on Saturday in their debut in the 2023 Pacific Games in Honiara.
The team, which is mostly made up of teenagers who are still in high school could not match up to a bigger, faster and more physically dominating Fijian outfit.
Fiji's star striker Roy Krishina, who plays professionally for Indian Super League club Odisha, led the charge for his team with a hat-trick.
The CNMI is in Group C of the 12-team football competition that will run from 17 November to 2 December, 2023.
They are scheduled to will play Tahiti on Friday.
CNMI coach Michiteru Mita said despite the loss, the game against the South Pacific powerhouse was a great experience.
"We had a young team play against a strong team, so it was another great international opportunity. We learned a lot and our objective now is to get better and better. We have more games so we just need to keep our heads up and continue to work hard," Mita said.
Northern Marianas became part of the Asian Football Confederation as its 47th member in December 2020.
As for their debut in the Pacific Games, he said it was a "totally different" environment.
"The tournament format is totally different and so is everything else, but it's a great opportunity for us, as a national team, to play against strong countries. I just appreciate that we are given this opportunity."
Before the game against Fiji, Mita acknowledged the CNMI's unfamiliarity of the style and play of the teams from the Oceania region.
"We are more excited than nervous about our first experience to compete against Pacific teams that are under the Oceania Football Confederation.
"We have Fiji, which is ranked 170 and Tahiti at 163. These are higher-ranked teams than the squads we usually faced when we play in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) or EAFF (East Asian Football Federation), Macau (187) and Mongolia (190), so it will be very interesting to learn how Tahiti and Fiji play," he said.
The other teams competing in soccer in the quadrennial event include Group A's New Caledonia, Tonga, and Cook Islands; Group B's Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu; and Group D's Samoa, American Samoa, and host Solomon Islands are the other participating countries.