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FIFA will not block US territories from 2026 World Cup vote

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FIFA will not block U.S.-governed territories from voting in the 2026 World Cup contest where a United States-led bid is taking on Morocco.

The bidding nations – the U.S. along with partners Canada and Mexico, as well as Morocco – are excluded from the June 13 vote by more than 200 federations at the FIFA Congress.

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In a letter to FIFA, Morocco raised questions over whether American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands would have a conflict in the vote. Although governed by the U.S., the quartet is considered to be four separate football nations by FIFA so each has a vote.

FIFA bidding regulations puts the onus on congress delegates to declare if they feel the need to withdraw from participating in the vote.

“FIFA’s member associations are entitled to participate and vote in the FIFA Congress,” world football’s governing body said in a statement to The Associated Press, pointing to the rules. “Regarding potential conflicts of interest in the context of the voting procedure for the election of the host of the 2026 FIFA World Cup … at the time of writing, no member association has notified FIFA about its intention not to perform their duties in connection with the bidding procedure.”

FIFA’s ruling executive committee chose the World Cup sites from 1986-2022, but now the decision has been opened up to the membership with each vote to be made public.

Morocco has repeatedly protested about the fairness of the process and the role of FIFA President Gianni Infantino as the north African nation tries to avoid a fifth unsuccessful bid.

Morocco complained that FIFA had imposed burdensome demands for technical criteria that the bids will be scored on. FIFA, which has defended the integrity of the contest, last month sent a task force to inspect both bids. The FIFA Council could block a bid that doesn’t meet minimum requirements over infrastructure, costs and revenue projections from the vote in Moscow.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

For Guam, skipping the 2019 Asian Cup is a lost opportunity

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Less than two years after the team from tiny Guam drew international attention in the qualifying tournament for the 2018 World Cup, the football story in the northern Pacific island has turned to one of broken dreams.

Prior to June 2015, the United States territory, which joined FIFA only in 1996, had lost its only two World Cup qualifiers with a combined score of 35-0.

Then, with the space of five days, Guam beat Turkmenistan and India to temporarily top an Asian qualifying group containing Iran and Oman and jumped to No. 146 in FIFA’s rankings, its highest ever place.

The results also earned Guam – for the first time – a spot in the final round of qualification for the Asian Cup, to be held in 2019. But that opportunity is gone.

Guam Football Associated chief executive Richard Lai last month blamed a lack of funding when he announced the decision to withdraw from the continental tournament.

So when the draw was made last week, Nepal slotted into Guam’s allocated spot and ended up in Group F with Philippines, Tajikistan and Yemen. The winners and runners-up in all six groups will advance to the AFC Cup in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.

The decision to withdraw from the qualifying generated backlash from players and fans, but Lai told The Associated Press that it would cost around $1.2 million to compete in the six qualifying games and “We just don’t have the money.”

He said many of the players are based in the United States and the cost of flying them into and out of Guam and setting up training camps drives up the costs for an FA with little sponsorship, broadcasting revenue or government support.

“There is no sports ministry here to support the team (and) every NGO here has to be self-sustaining,” Lai said. “The FIFA grants come with conditions regarding women’s football and youth football and facilities. We can’t keep investing all we have in the national team only.”

The federation said it plans to focus on Guam’s youngsters in the hope it will pay dividends in the future.

“We can develop more and better players, help more go to the U.S. and improve then we can play friendlies against teams like Thailand and Singapore and start generating revenue,” Lai said.

Jason Cunliffe, who was captain of the national team, said he was upset when he found out through the media that Guam had withdrawn from the Asian Cup.

“The money is there. I think maybe not all of it was there immediately but there was a way,” he said. “We’ve known since March that we had reached this stage of qualification and we were told to prepare. There has been no effort from the GFA to raise funds.”

Lai “and everyone else have done a good job in the past but we can’t rest on our laurels,” he said. “We no longer have faith in the decision-makers.”

Gary White, was the Guam coach in 2015 before leaving in 2016 to take over Chinese club Shanghai Shenxin, said the success came from administrators and players “pulling together.”

“I had support from the federation and the commitment from the players.” White said. “There is enough leadership both in the GFA and among the players that they will get back on track.”

For Lai, the last World Cup campaign was a special situation for the island of 165,000 people.

“We wanted to see were we stood, to measure our development 20 years after joining FIFA,” he said. “What we achieved was phenomenal but now we have no savings. Withdrawing was a hard decision but was really our only option – better to withdraw before the start than halfway through.”

Cunliffe believes his squad could have finished in the top two in qualifying and reached the Asian Cup for the first time.

“The opportunity was there to put our island on the map,” he said. “But that opportunity that the players gave everything to earn has been taken away. Not by someone else but by our own federation and that is hard for us to swallow.”

174th ranked Guam shock India in World Cup qualifying with help of two MLSers

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Guam beat India 2-1 on Tuesday as the 174th ranked nation in world soccer caused a huge upset in a qualifier for the 2018 World Cup.

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The tiny Pacific Island nation governed by the United States of America has long been known for its love of the NFL and Major League Baseball but perhaps soccer will now be the up and coming sports among its 165,000 citizens. To put that into context, India has 1.25 billion citizens.

Talk about David vs. Goliath…

Current LA Galaxy defender AJ DeLaGarza lined up for Guam and alongside him was former D.C. United and San Jose Earthquakes defender Brandon McDonald who scored the opening goal of the upset in Hagatna in front of 3,277 fans. A handful of other players from the NASL, USL and across collegiate soccer in the U.S. were also involved for Guam.

Guam is ranked 33 places below India but have now won both of its opening World Cup qualifiers after beating Turkmenistan 1-0 last Thursday.

Those results leave them top of Group D in the second round of qualifying with six games to go in this round. If they qualify for the third round, then 12 teams are split into two groups and the top two teams from each will qualify automatically for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The two third-placed teams will play in a play-off to see who will represent the AFC in the inter-confederation playoffs.

Guam has a long way to go as the likes of South Korea, Japan, Australia and Iran stand between them and qualification for the 2018 World Cup.

That said, for a nation which has the same population as Springfield, Missouri and only joined FIFA in 1996 it is quite the achievement.