Wednesday 27 March 2024, 10:30

‘It brings us closer to the rest of the world’: FIFA Series opens new horizons for national team players

  • Twenty-four teams took part in the pilot FIFA Series in March

  • The tournaments provided unique opportunities for teams to meet rivals from other continents

  • Member Associations thank FIFA for its support

The FIFA Series has opened up new horizons for the players from some FIFA Member Associations by providing them with a precious opportunity to test themselves against opponents from other parts of the world.

Introduced as a pilot event in the March international window of 2024, the inaugural FIFA Series consisted of six four-team tournaments, each involving teams from different confederations and played in a single host country. The idea is to provide more playing opportunities for FIFA Member Associations, especially those who rarely get the chance to play teams from outside their own continent.

Papua New Guinea, for example, travelled to Sri Lanka where they faced the host nation and the Central African Republic, and coach Warren Moon explained what it meant to both his team and the country.

Troy Dobbin of Papua New Guinea is challenged by Isaac Solet of Central African Republic

“We're just as passionate about our football in Papua New Guinea,” he said. “Sometimes we feel a little bit isolated from the rest of the world being in Oceania and being a bit far away, but the passion’s still there nonetheless and this brings us a little bit closer to the rest of the world.”

The match against Les Fauves (the Wild Beasts) came 40 years after Papua New Guinea played Liberia in their only previous meeting with African opponents. “The Central African Republic – we actually don’t know where their country is. But (the public) are excited to know how we’ll do against them,” said Gordon Manub, General Secretary of the Papua New Guinea Football Association, before the game.

"People from my country are trying to find out more about the countries we’ll be taking on, and to be able to find them on the map," said Celestin Yanindji, President of the Central African Republic Football Association. “Before this (people) don’t know who the Central African Republic are. Now we are here, maybe you have some interest in our country. Also, for the players to meet other players, different culture, different style of football…. this is a good benefit."

Jigdrel Wangchuk of Bhutan warms up

Central African Republic also provided Bhutan with their first experience of African opposition. "This is the first time [that] we are playing against the African team, so we are pretty excited about the match," said Bhutan captain Chencho Gyeltshen. "We learn many things from playing against different countries."

Mongolia, meanwhile, played hosts Azerbaijan and Tanzania in the FIFA Series in Baku. Before that, they had only ever played two internationals against teams from outside Asia - Mauritius in 2018 and Georgia in 2023.

"I see the FIFA Series as a great opportunity because it has given us the chance to compete against European and African teams. We can learn many things from these teams, so we can use this experience to develop further," Mongolia defender Mönkh-Orgil Orkhon said. "I’m very grateful for this opportunity."

Bayartsengel Purevdorj of Mongolia battles for possession with Philip Ozobic of Azerbaijan

While fixture overload is a challenge for players in the world's leading football nations, others face the opposite problem. In some of FIFA's 211 Member Associations, the cost and logistics involved in organising international fixtures mean that the national team may only play a handful of games every year.

“You have to go and look for friendlies, and it’s not too easy to find teams to play against," said South Africa coach Hugo Broos, whose side played in the tournament in Algeria. "This is very well-organised, the hotels are very good, the training pitches are very good, the games are very good, so I’m very happy with it."

Captains Yacine Nasr-Eddine Brahimi of Algeria and Ronwen Williams of South Africa shake hands and exchange match pennants

The problem of arranging friendlies is even more acute for other nations. "It is more difficult for a small (FIFA) Member Association like Bhutan, it’s very expensive to travel or even host matches, so the financial support from FIFA for this was huge for us," said Phuntsho Wangdi, the Bhutan team manager. "The advice that FIFA gave us on travel, on visas also helped us.”

The FIFA Series also showed how football could unite the world, with teams from different countries and cultures mingling in the same hotel. “I think all around the world, we have different cultures and lifestyle,” said Papua New Guinea midfielder Emmanuel Simon. “Football unites and brings everybody together just to enjoy this lovely game.”

Flory Yangao of Central African Republic shakes hands with Godfrey Haro of Papua New Guinea

Football Development