The story behind an unlikely world record

10 Apr 2021
  • Multiple FIFA World Cup records were set on this day 20 years ago

  • American Samoa faced numerous hurdles in the lead-up

  • FIFA.com chronicles the back-story to a unique match

Twenty years ago today a world record international score was set.

Australia 31-0 American Samoa

It is a mark that will surely never be surpassed. This is the back-story of how the record books were torn to shreds in Coffs Harbour.

About six hours north of Sydney, the area’s beachside ambience is more renowned as a summer holiday spot. But in football circles, the town’s name has become more synonymous with a barely believable 90 minutes.

Newly-minted international striker Archie Thompson scored an unthinkable 13 goals, another world record that seems certain never to be erased. Unbelievably, Thompson posted a new individual FIFA World Cup™ scoring record moments before the break to leave the half-time score at 16-0.

It was, of course, the stuff of nightmares for under-siege goalkeeper Nicky Salapu. Also with cause to feel hard done by was David Zdrilic, whose haul of eight goals would have been enough to set a world record in any other previous match since international football began in 1872.

The scoreboard even presented the final score as 32-0, adding insult to American Samoan injury, until someone did a recount.

Australia 31-0 American Samoa 11 April 2001 Goals: Con Boutsianis 10', 50', 84', Archie Thompson 12', 23', 27', 29', 32', 37', 42', 45', 56', 60', 65', 85', 88', David Zdrilic 13', 21', 25', 33', 58', 66', 78', 89', Aurelio Vidmar 14', 80', Tony Popovic 17', 19', Simon Colosimo 51', 81', Fausto De Amicis 55'

Different worlds

Eligibility rules changed shortly before the tournament, meaning the vast majority of American Samoa’s squad was missing. Work, and even school, commitments ensured further unavailability. Their final squad even included a couple of 15-year-olds who reportedly had not played a 90-minute match before the tournament.

Conversely, Australia’s golden generation was just beginning to bloom. The majority of the squad were based at big clubs in Europe, others were stars of the nation’s former National Soccer League.

The likes of Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell were omitted from the Australian squad. Left on the bench for this match were the likes of 2006 World Cup goalscorer John Aloisi and then-Socceroos all-time leading scorer Damian Mori.

Nevertheless, rarely has there been such disparity between two teams lining up for an international.

Australia were looking to exorcise some demons. Four years earlier, the national team’s seemingly cursed quadrennial push to reach a first World Cup since 1974 reached a new nadir as their unbeaten campaign ended with a hugely unlucky away-goals elimination against IR Iran after leading 2-0.

At the other end of the spectrum, American Samoa had played their first-ever World Cup qualifier just four days earlier, recording a crushing 13-0 loss against Fiji. Boasting less than 50,000 inhabitants, the tiny, unincorporated US island territory sits at the remote eastern end of Oceania.

Off the field, the relative ambitions and resources of the respective teams spoke volumes. Australia’s resort-style hotel boasted a nine-hole golf course and its own playing fields. American Samoa, on the other hand, were holed up three-to-a-room in an old motel on the noisy main highway that links Sydney and Brisbane.

19
IR Iran set a new World Cup record with a 19-0 win over Guam in 2000. Australia eclipsed that mark with a 22-0 scoreline against Tonga two days before facing American Samoa.
7
The most goals scored in a World Cup qualifier was initially set by Australia’s Gary Cole in 1981 against Fiji, and then equalled by IR Iran’s Karim Bagheri against Maldives in 1997.

What they said

“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.” Archie Thompson

“It was really hard for me to deal with. But I thought if I don’t get back on the field I would never get a win for American Samoa. I had been suffering for a long time to get that win. To be part of this has been a big deal for me.” Nicky Salapu after helping American Samoa to their first international win.

11 Apr 2001: Nicky Salapu #1 of American Samoa is comforted by team mate Young Im Min #20 after they were beaten 31 to nil by Australia which is a new world record during the Oceania group one World Cup qualifier match between Australia and American Samoa played at the Coffs Harbour International Sports Stadium in Coffs Harbour, Australia. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Darren England/ALLSPORT

What next

American Samoa, with Salapu in goal, claimed a well-documented maiden victory in 2011 - subsequently detailed in a highly-regarded documentary - having gone into those Brazil 2014 qualifiers with a record of played 30, lost 30, 12 goals scored and 229 conceded. Four years later on the road to Russia 2018 - and with the ageless Salapu on the bench - they notched two further wins, and only goal difference denied the Polynesians an unthinkable spot in the next round.

Just a few months after defeating world champions France at the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup, Australia again saw their World Cup ambitions end with a final-hurdle defeat, going down 3-1 to Uruguay in an intercontinental play-off. But they turned the tables against the South Americans four years later to reach Germany 2006, and have now qualified for four successive World Cups.

Next Goal Wins American Samoa film poster