Englishman David Brand has the unenviable task of leading the world's joint lowest ranked team into battle when the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers kick-off in Apia, Samoa on Saturday.
American Samoa play their first international in three years when they go up against pre-tournament favourites the Solomon Islands in the first of the matches at the South Pacific Games, which are serving as the first step in the Oceania qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals.
Brand, who is from Manchester and played professionally for Wigan Athletic, has coached in both Samoa and now the American half of the country. He left England to finish his professional career in New Zealand and also coached in Australia for a time.
Coaching American Samoa is a challenge but Brand hopes there will be much improvement on the 31-0 thrashing that the country received from Australia in the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifier - a result that has earned American Samoa worldwide footballing renown, but all for the wrong reasons.
FIFA.com: What is your realistic expectation for the tournament? David Brand: Our realistic expectation is just to try and perform a little better than we did previously. As you are aware, our record in international football is very, very poor, we are very much a developing country which has had very few facilities for the sport in the last ten years, so we are looking to go out and be as competitive as possible and maybe prove we are a little better than what our world record shows.
*Is that 31-0 scoreline a dark shadow over football in American Samoa? * Probably not much in the country, but very much so across the rest of the world because I continue to get e-mails every week reminding me about that. It's naturally a little bit embarrassing for us, but that's all in the past. We only have one or two players in our current squad who were part of that and very few remember it. I certainly wasn't involved as well, so we just want to go out and improve and develop. We are here to participate, we have no great ambitions, but naturally we want to give as good a showing as possible.
Is there any chance of a 31-0 happening this time around?
If there is a 31-0 this time around I will a dig big hole to bury myself. No, I can't see that happening. We are well behind countries like the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, who traditionally put a lot of goals past American Samoa, but we aim to make our country as proud as we can.
*A match against the Solomon Islands is an incredibly tough start for you... * We know they are a great team and it's really a tough call for us, but we are not daunted by that. We'll certainly go out there and do our best. Unfortunately for us, our first choice goalkeeper will be missing because sadly he missed his flight in Hawaii on Thursday night, so we are turning to a 17-year-old who will be making his debut. It's not want we wanted but we are confident he will go out and do his best.
Do you have players based in the USA?
Most of our players are local but there are a couple who have come back from the USA to play in this tournament. None of our college based players were able to make themselves available for this tournament, which was really sad. There were three or four, who were contacted, and who were keen to play, but at the end of the day other commitments came before playing for their country, which for me is hard to fathom. We still have to teach our people that football is the number one game in the world and playing in the World Cup is the highest possible honour
*It is still a distinction of sorts that American Samoa plays in the very first match on the long road to the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals on Saturday * Absolutely, I guess we are making the right kind of history there! Maybe that will change things of the past. Look, we are under no illusion, it's a major challenge for us but we are looking forward to the game. It's very much David versus Goliath. We just hope we can be as competitive as possible. We might even nick a goal somewhere along the line!