Thursday 21 May 2020, 01:37

Tiny Macau eye big gains from down-to-earth development

  • Macau boasts a long association with football

  • The Chinese administrative region is one of FIFA’s smallest members

  • Former Portuguese colony now focused on grassroots development

Macau, with an area of just 32 square kilometres, is among the smallest of FIFA's 211 Member Associations. Despite this fact, however, the port city on the edge of the South China Sea boasts a strong history in the game.

Originated in 1937, the Hong Kong-Macau Interport Tournament has been played between Macau and Hong Kong on a yearly basis with brief suspensions during World War II and in the 1960s. Of the past 74 editions, Macau’s team have triumphed on 12 occasions, and emerged as joint winners on four occasions.

The vintage competition is, in a sense, a fairly accurate reflection of the game's history in Macau. Football was introduced to the former Portuguese colony a century ago and during its early days, the game made progress largely thanks to the close cooperation with neighbouring Guangdong on the China PR mainland and Hong Kong.

As early as 1931, Macau began competing with Guangdong. More competitions, including local leagues, were arranged after the Macau Football Association (MFA) was formed in 1939.

International exposure

Macau hadn't, however, participated in any major international competitions until becoming affiliated to FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 1978. Their international debut campaign came in 1980 AFC Asian Cup qualifying, where they pulled off a 2-1 defeat of the Philippines, but were eliminated after defeats against Korea Republic and China.

Macau began their FIFA World Cup™ bid in Asia's qualifying campaign for USA 1994. They registered their first qualifying victory on the road to France 1998, with a memorable 2-1 comeback win against Nepal at the Tokyo National Stadium courtesy of second-half goals from Che Chi Man and Jose Martins. Their second World Cup qualifying win was achieved just last year with a 1-0 Round 1 win over Sri Lanka at the Zhuhai Sports Center.

Meanwhile, the MFA are all too aware that only grassroots development plans can help bring their game to a higher level. FIFA have provided regular support through a series of FIFA Forward projects down the years. New MFA headquarters and gymnasiums have been established, while technical seminars and FIFA Forward workshops have been regularly conducted. The number of officially registered players has been steadily growing, reaching over 4,000 of the 680,000 population today.

"Our focus is on grassroots and youth development," Mr Cheung Vitor Lup Kwan, MFA President told "We will concentrate on nurturing the youth talents who can first emerge on the international scene, and then help take our game to a higher level. Of course, to achieve that, we will need to launch more technical courses for coaches and referees."

The Macau Olympic Stadium

MFA vision

  • Focus on youth development schemes

  • Seek international competitions/matches to move up FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking

  • Develop grassroots level and promote the game in schools to build playing population

  • Provide support for youth coaches to implement the 'campus football' strategy

  • Increasing media coverage to enhance focus on the game

  • Invite foreign experts for courses to help local coaches acquire broader knowledge

Return Cup

Football in the former Portuguese colony entered a new era with Macau's return to China in 1999. To mark the occasion, a high-profile new competition, the Return Cup, was staged in the Macau Olympic Complex between a Macau XI and a China XI. World class stars such as Dunga, Franco Baresi and Jurgen Klinsmann were invited to join the Macau team, and despite losing 4-0 to the visitors, the match drew unprecedented local attention.

More notable matches have since been held in the stadium, including friendlies between China and Portugal (2002), Barcelona and Shenzhen (2005) and, most recently, Chelsea and Guangzhou (2019). Other notable milestones include hosting the 2005 East Asian Games and the 2007 Asian Indoor Games futsal tournament.

"We should figure out the plans as for how to use our limited resources more efficiently," Cheung added. "The conclusions are that we should cooperate well with the neighbouring associations so that we can promote the game and make progress through international competitions and matches."

This article is part of ‘The Global Game’ series which focuses on football away from the spotlight. Next week we look at football in Montserrat.