The Oceania qualifiers on the road to a World Cup never really captured the imagination of the nation that much. Only once had Australia not made it through this part of qualifying with the usual modus operandi having the Socceroos slay all opponents including New Zealand before moving on to much bigger fish and inevitable disappointment. In 2001 though the one sided nature of the qualifying tournament took on a whole new ridiculous level.
Australia was again to go through Oceania before playing off against a monster from South America. Australia had been given a path through Asia in their bid to qualify for France 98 which we all know came to a tragic end on a November night at the MCG. Australia would play off against four other countries in scenic CoffsHarbour in a round robin tournament with the group winners facing the other group winners in a two-legged play off. In the first game for Australia they took apart Tonga 22-0 which was a new world record beating the old one which was a 20-0 win by Kuwait over Bhutan in 2000.
Embarrassing no? Well, Australia hadn’t played America Samoa yet. American Samoa had been badly beaten by fellow Polynesian minnows Fiji and Samoa so it didn’t bode well for the game against the Socceroos. It didn’t really help that because of Visa issues all but one player from the 23 man American Samoa squad couldn’t enter Australia either. No problem they think, they can get the Under 21 players? Well, no, as most of them were doing exams so they had to go even younger with players around 17-18 being selected and even three 15 year olds. An accidental youth policy had been forced on the team.
In front of 2,500 or so American Samoa managed to keep Australia scoreless for 10 minutes but buckled once the great man himself Con Boutisanis, a player who was the deadliest free kick taker and fastest getaway driver in the business, struck one of his trademark free kicks past the keeper. The then Belgium based striker Archie Thompson scored on 12 minutes, David Zdrillic on 13 minutes and the veteran Aurelio Vidmar on 14 minutes. Four goals in four minutes. 4-0. Popovic (a defender might I add) then scored a double before Zdrillic and Thompson scored a lazy 10 goals between them to have it 16-0 at half time.
The smashing continued in the second half with Thompson getting the record for most goals in the 65th minute with his 11th goal beating a previous record held since an Olympics match in 1908. Australia won an amazing 31-0, again smashing the record with the statistician losing count of the goals putting 32-0 up on the board instead of 31-0 which was later corrected by FIFA.
Zdrillic finished with 8 goals, Boutisanis had a hattrick while Vidmar, Popovic and Colosimo all got doubles. Even the NSL substitute Faustino De Amicis chimed in with a goal. Thompson would finish with a bag of 13 goals like he was in the #5 for Geelong and playing on the wing at KardiniaPark in the 80s. Before this game Thompson had only 2 caps and 1 goal to his name.
American Samoa managed to get one shot on target late in the game forcing a save from Michael Petkovic, their only attack for the whole game.
In the aftermath of this embarrassment Farina criticised the qualifying process claiming that playing these games added nothing to improving Australia’s game. The then Oceania Football Association boss Basil Scarcella (a former Soccer Australia administrator and member of the boys club) hit back saying American Samoa had as much right as playing this game as Australia did playing a France of Brazil. The process was changed for the 2006 qualifying campaign with smaller nations playing off with the best then playing Australia and New Zealand. This would be Australia’s last time in Oceania before going to the wild blue yonder of the AFC.
The American Samoan FA took many positives from the shellacking. The one adult aged player that had his visa sorted out, the goalkeeper Nicky Salapu, claimed that the loss put American Samoa in the world news that would only promote the game in their country. They also used the old excuse of player unavailability too with Salapu claiming that with his first choice defence he ‘only’ would’ve conceded around 5 or 6 goals. They finally got a first ever win in qualifiers for the 2014 tournament when they beat the Cook Islands.
Archie Thompson was delighted with the record but the knew ridiculous reality of it. He did manage to take the piss out of himself about the record though with his appearance on Santo, Sam and Ed’s Cup Fever in 2010 advertising ‘The Glory Days of Oceania’ DVD.
It now seems an age ago that Australia had to go through Oceania on the way to a hopeful World Cup spot. This shellacking gave more of a push for the side to go in to Asia that only became a reality once Frank Lowy used all his tact and guile to get Australia accepted. This 31-0 embarrassment is one of the memorable moments from our time in Oceania.