Tiny Guam leading football's technological age

Guam have already shocked Asia by winning their opening two World Cup qualification matches to sit alone atop Group D. Now they are set to be global innovators in the field of sports science.

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When the side known as the Matao take the field against Iran on Thursday night, they will become the first national team anywhere in the world to employ cutting-edge GPS technology in a senior FIFA international match.

While the technology has been widely used at elite club level, FIFA was reluctant until recently to allow players to wear the GPS units during official matches before a relaxing of that stance earlier this year.

Until now though no national team had been successful in persuading match officials to allow them to wear the GPS units, but after Guam’s head of sports science Andrew Young met with match officials, they were given the green light in a move that continues to demonstrate the giant strides the island is taking.

Speaking to FourFourTwo, Young said that the technology is a valuable resource for any national team and the data he will gleam from the clash with Iran will lay a platform for Guam’s ongoing success.

“Things like this are absolutely critical to understanding player loads and to design recovery and prevention programs,” he said.

“What having access to this data will do is help me know exactly where each player is at in terms of how far and at what intensity they are working and then I can tailor the recovery and training programmes accordingly.”

Damien Hawes, who is the international sales manager for GP Sports, the company that provided Guam with the units, says the Matao are joining an illustrious list of teams using the technology, a sign of the island’s progress.

“I’m delighted that Guam will be the first nation to wear GPS units in an official FIFA match, but I’m not surprised as they have appointed world class coaches that come from a high-performance environment,” he said.

“Our clients include Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Chelsea and we provide high performance solutions for these champion teams, so regarding Guam: watch this space.”

Guam's head of sport science Andrew Young keeps a close eye on training

The units themselves are worn in a small pouch at the top of the spine, in a kind of brace that fits around the chest and weighs less than half the amount of a mobile phone, meaning players rarely even realise they are wearing them.

But as Guam captain Jason Cunliffe explains, the benefits far outweigh any potential discomfort.

“I like it a lot and at this level any kind of extra variable can help separate the good from the great,” he said. “And we’re coming into a whole new realm of things here and with the new emphasis on sports science, it’s just another list of firsts that we can add to for football in Guam.”

They are thoughts echoed by Gary White, the side’s coach, who has been an enthusiastic advocate for embracing new technology.

“This just shows what football in Guam is all about,” White enthused. “We’re focused firstly on going out and defeating Iran in front of 100,000 fans, but five days after that we fly back to Guam and play another match (against Oman).

“So being able to gather such important information will be crucial to helping plan everything from sleep patterns to who can and can’t train.”