How Guam achieved its best ever FIFA ranking

Guam was ranked 193 when Gary White took over as coach in 2012. This week, as he prepares his side for a 2018 World Cup qualifier against India on November 12, Guam sits 155th on that same table, down from a historic best of 146 achieved in September.

Guam was placed 193rd in the FIFA rankings when Gary White took over as coach.   -  K. Murali Kumar

In February 2012, when Gary White took over as coach of Guam, a tiny island of fewer than 200,000 people in the western Pacific Ocean, the country was ranked a lowly 193 by FIFA. This week, as he prepares his side for a 2018 World Cup qualifier against India here on November 12, Guam sits 155th on that same table, down from a historic best of 146 achieved in September.

For a team that had suffered colossal defeats – 21-0 (North Korea, 2005), 19-0 (Iran, 2000), and 16-0 (Tajikistan, 2000) – this was a dramatic turnaround. When White, an Englishman, arrived at the invitation of Richard Lai, the President of the Guam FA, the country had a well-organized club and youth system but the national team was in the doldrums. “The first thing I did was change the mentality,” White said here on Sunday.

Instilling belief in the team

“The belief that was instilled in them was to go into games and try not to lose too bad. We did a lot of psychology—a lot of focus and goal setting. You’d be surprised how much you can get out of a human being if there is someone who believes in him.”

Guam is U.S. territory and what White also did was look for players with Guamanian roots in America. It wasn't easy, though, to sell them the idea of turning out for Guam.

“When I first spoke to Ryan Guy, he was playing in the MLS for New England Revolution, he was thinking about playing for the U.S. So I had to sell him on the vision and it got to a point where he told me, ‘Coach, stop calling me; I will come.' Once I got Ryan, I used him to get other players. Where we are today is by design. There is no luck involved.”

India are 17 places below Guam

White points out that only one current player—A.J. De La Garza—plies his trade in the top tier of American football (the MLS) and the other U.S. based members of his squad figure in the lower divisions.

When the second round of AFC qualifiers began in June, India sat 33 places above Guam in the FIFA rankings. White's men have since won two and drawn two games in Group D, while India has lost all five. India has now slipped 17 spots below Guam.

“We are the smallest country in AFC, almost 10 times smaller than Bhutan,” White said. “If I said I had a realistic pool of 35 players to pick this squad (of 20) from, which would be too many. It is an amazing story.”

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