World's worst football team finally tastes success

After 30 straight losses – one by 31 goals to nil – American Samoa get the winning feeling at last

Losing jinxes don't come much worse than this: 30 consecutive defeats, including a 31-0 massacre and a decade of being lampooned as the world's most woeful football nation. But American Samoa has finally had its first international victory, triggering euphoria in Pago Pago, the capital of the tiny South Pacific territory.

For most teams, a 2-1 win over Tonga in a pre-qualifying game for the 2014 World Cup would be little to sound your vuvuzela about, but that did nothing to lessen American Samoa's joy. "This is going to be part of soccer history," said the team's coach, Thomas Rongen.

Most elated of all the players, who sank to their knees in disbelief when the whistle blew on Tuesday, was the goalkeeper, Nicky Salapu, who has spent 10 years trying to live down the ignominy of letting in 31 goals against Australia – still an international record. "I feel like a champ right now," he told the New York Times after the match in Apia, the Samoan capital. "Finally I'm going to put the past behind me."

The victory is set to elevate American Samoa in the FIFA world rankings; no longer will it share bottom place with Andorra, San Marino, Samoa (the US protectorate's independent neighbour) and Montserrat. And the ratio of goals it has scored to those it has conceded since venturing on to the international stage in 1994 has improved, ever so slightly, from its previous tally of 12 to 229.

Among the players savouring the unaccustomed taste of success was Johnny Saelua, a man who considers himself a woman, or rather a fa'fafine – a "third sex" common in Polynesia. Rongen said: "I've really got a female starting at centre back. Can you imagine that in England or Spain?"

The Dutch-born coach took over the team just three weeks ago, after being fired by the United States under-20s. At the time, he could not point to American Samoa on the map. "When I got here, I had never seen a lower standard of international football," hesaid. Lack of confidence, he added, was the biggest problem, particularly for Salapu.

"This guy's got major demons going on. He's totally driven by the 31-0 score and erasing it for himself and his family," Rongen explained. "When he mentions American Samoa, people say, 'You're the guy that gave up 31 goals.' There are incredible scars."

With American Samoa facing two more matches in the Oceania Group this week, against the Cook Islands and Samoa, Rongen dared to dream that more wins might follow. He told his team he wanted them to finish top of the four-nation group. "Maybe we have a chance to do something special here beyond this one game, but let's enjoy this one right now," he said.

14-230

The tally of goals scored against goals conceded by American Samoa since 1994.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker