Imagine scoring 13 goals on your international starting debut. Impossible, surely. Yet, that is the remarkable world record statistic on Archie Thompson’s résumé. Thompson achieved the feat in April 2001 when Australia overwhelmed a young and hugely inexperienced American Samoa with a record 31 unanswered goals in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier. We revisit that extraordinary feat in our ongoing series focusing on record-breaking moments in FIFA World Cup history.
A colourful and popular character, Archie Thompson’s career always seemed to diverge just slightly from the norm. He was the headline signing for the A-League’s biggest club, Melbourne Victory, in the first season of the competition. And he repaid that faith in spades, most famously achieving another landmark goalscoring feat – a five-goal haul in the A-League grand final. Always with a smile at the ready, even in the heat of battle, Thompson enjoyed a long and fascinating career.
Yet, it all could have been very different. Five years earlier, he had been washing dishes in the back of Chinese restaurant when he had a football epiphany of sorts. Watching former youth team-mate Harry Kewell star for Leeds United was the motivation to work his way into a national league contract. Thompson famously signed his first senior contract after impressing former national team coach Frank ‘Mad Dog’ Arok with a hastily arranged trial in the Morwell Falcons’ car park.
An impressive goal return in the National Soccer League saw Thompson called up by coach Frank Farina for his international debut in early 2001, though he was still considered well down the pecking order of attacking options. Then came the Oceania World Cup qualifiers. The 22-year-old was about to write a new entry into the record books.
It is a little remembered fact that Australia posted a record international scoreline just two days prior to tackling American Samoa in Coffs Harbour. Their 22-0 win over Tonga in the five-team Oceania group is now barely a footnote whenever discussion turns to the world international score.
Until that point, the World Cup record was held by Iran thanks to their 19-0 win over Guam in 2000. Almost inevitably, it was Thompson who scored the goal against Tonga that cracked Iran’s mark. The individual World Cup record was seven, initially set by Australia’s Gary Cole in a 1981 match against Fiji, and then equalled by Iran’s Karim Bagheri against Maldives.
The average age of the American Samoa side was just 18, with the squad beset by eligibility issues. Little wonder statisticians were reaching for the record books ahead of the match.
It took ten minutes for Australia to score their first, yet by half-time the score was 16-0. Incredibly, Thompson broke the individual record in the first half, with his eighth on the stroke of the break. The world record score fell in the 65th minute – and of course it was the same player who scored the landmark goal. At that point, Arbroath’s storied 36-0 win over Bon Accord set in Scotland way back in 1885 was in danger. The carnage stopped at 31 but, such was the sheer volume of goalmouth action, the scoreboard initially recorded the score as 32-0, with 14 for Thompson.
Australia went on to win the group with 66 unanswered goals and then eliminated New Zealand, before losing 3-1 to Uruguay in the intercontinental play-off. They would have their revenge against La Celeste at the same stage four years later though, as the Socceroos broke a 32-year World Cup drought by qualifying for Germany 2006.
“I’m obviously delighted to own the world record, but I always ask people to put it in perspective. The American Samoa team were absolute beginners. In some ways it just did not seem the right thing to do, to walk all over them the way we did, but we had to at least show them the respect of trying our best.
“People forget that my strike partner, David Zdrilic, scored eight goals that day. He could easily have ended up with the record, but some extra opportunities fell my way. My feat was due to a struggling opponent, and being in the zone where all the finishes came off. A lot of that game is a blur, but I do remember hitting every single ball well.
“When kids [across the world] argue about who holds the world record in a FIFA-sanctioned match, they might guess Pele or Maradona. If I think too hard about the record, it does my head in. It is bizarre, when you think of all the great footballers who have played in internationals over the years, that the record is held by a guy like me.
“I honestly don’t remember much about the game. I was fresh in the Socceroos then, and I was just happy to be involved and enjoying the experience. I went overseas after that match and people expected so much, which made it hard.
“You can go through a career and achieve a lot, but not many will have a world record, so I’m grateful and proud to have it. I bring out my many copies of the record books whenever I get the chance!”