Two weeks ago, a football team from a country few people had heard of made global headlines.

Micronesia, competing in the 2015 Pacific Games, conceded 114 goals in three games, including 46 in a single match. They've been the subject of worldwide ridicule, and a google search on Micronesia football now yields millions of results. But the squad - labelled the "worst football team in the world" - might just be one of the great stories in sport.

This was a team whose players still live in basic huts in tiny villages, without hot water and flush toilets, who had never seen an escalator or ridden in an elevator. This was a team whose 64-year-old coach had originally arrived in the country on a volunteer abroad programme.

This was a team where some players wouldn't have had boots at the tournament but for a chance encounter with a Guam restaurant owner. This was a team wearing uniforms donated from another nation.


To understand Micronesia's results, you need to understand how far they have come.

The Federated States of Micronesia consist of four states - Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae - spread across 607 islands in the west of the Pacific Ocean. It's isolated. Guam is 1600km to the north, and Papua New Guinea is 2100km south-west.

Although it has been touched by western influences, it's a place almost frozen in time; virtually no television, no newspapers, scores of different languages and on Yap, traditional 'stone money' is still used for certain transactions.

Stan Foster arrived in January 2013, through the Australian Volunteer Abroad programme. Initially posted as a sports director on the island of Yap, his football background - decades of coaching and playing in Australia - meant he gravitated towards the sport.

"There were a dozen balls, a few cones ... but it was virtually ground zero," says Foster. "There had been a couple of attempts to get football going but no one had tried to develop grassroots."

Foster tried. He ran football clinics throughout Micronesia and organised an inter-schools competition on Yap. He returned to Australia after his 18-month AVA stint but soon came back - "I couldn't let everything fall away". In January, he was entrusted with the national side, ahead of the Pacific Games.

"They needed a national coach and as far as I know, I am the only licensed coach in the region."

But that was only the beginning of the challenge. Foster assessed players across the islands of Yap, Chuuk and Pohnpei (each hundreds of kilometres apart) and ran national camps. But facilities were limited. Across the whole region, there are only two full-sized fields; most football on Chuuk is street football, with cones used to warn traffic of games in progress. And many of the players played barefoot.

"I gave some donated boots to some boys from the outer villages," says Foster. "The next day, they weren't at the pick-up point and I was devastated. But they had walked the five miles to training, they were so excited."

Others wore their new boots to school, as the first covered shoes they had owned.

Life has changed little in Micronesia. Most in the team still live in basic huts, aluminium frames covered by woven palms. There are long drop toilets and few dwellings can afford hot water. Fresh food, sugar, flour and rice arrives by ship and the staple diet is taro, breadfruit, yam and fish.

Foster picked a young team for the Games - "I want them to be around for the future" - with most still in high school. Their alternative kit was a donated Guam strip and Guam also hosted the team before the tournament, where they played five club sides. Foster missed the first game in PNG due to visa issues and was devastated when he saw the 30-0 scoreline against Tahiti.

"Some of the players were nearly in tears," says Foster. "We weren't expecting to win but we were expecting to be competitive. But they were floored by the excellence of the other players."

The pre-match photos paint a picture; the Micronesians team look like nervous schoolboys, in ill fitting uniforms and unsure where to look. What followed against Fiji (38-0) and Vanuatu (46-0) made global headlines, with the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail labelling them the "worst football team in the world".

What do you say when your team is trailing 24-0 at halftime?

"I told them they are here for development and don't worry about the score"," says Foster.

Unlikely as it seems, Foster is predicting a happy postscript. A Fifa inspection committee visited last week, granting the possibility that Micronesia could be granted official status.

"Fingers crossed," says Foster. "I can't do this by myself. [Affiliation] would mean development officers, equipment, facilities."

Foster also hopes his team - and the nation - won't be too scarred by the experience.

"They are young so they are resilient," says Foster. "I think football could explode here and I hope it does. There are some naysayers here because of the poor scores, but I just hope people can see beyond the negativity."