Northern Mariana Islands to debut

Northern Mariana Islands to debut
By Reuters

14/09/2012 at 21:02Updated 14/09/2012 at 22:32

The Northern Mariana Islands will compete in the AFC Challenge Cup, the first tournament for the tiny Pacific Ocean country.

The team are one of 20 emerging Asian sides that will go into the qualifying draw for the eight team finals in 2014, with the victors earning the right to take on the region's heavyweights at the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.

The Northern Mariana Islands only became a full member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 2010 and are not one of the 209 member associations of world governing body FIFA.

Most of the population of approximately 50,000 on the 14 islands that make up the country are obsessed with baseball because of their links with the United States but efforts to promote an interest in football have been intensified.

The country took part in the AFC under-14 football festival in China earlier this year and have been approved to be recipients of the AFC's financial assistance program.

The other 19 entrants in the tournament designed for the lower ranked nations in the AFC are Afghanistan, Brunei, Cambodia, Taiwan, Guam, India, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Macau, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Turkmeninstan are the best ranked of the 20, dropping four places to 127 in the FIFA rankings released last week.

The last two editions of the biennial Challenge Cup have been won by North Korea but the East Asians will not be back to attempt to win a third title.

The qualifying draw for the fifth edition of the tournament takes place on October 25 in Kuala Lumpur.