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Meet Keeper Who Conceded 31 In A Game2 min read

Meet Keeper Who Conceded 31 In A Game<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">2</span> min read</span>
Nicky Salapu

Nicky Salapu


Imagine your worst day at work and then multiply it by 31. You may get close to what Nicky Salapu experienced on April 11, 2001.

That was the day the American Samoa goalkeeper was on the losing side during the heaviest loss in international football history.

Salapu told the Sporting Witness podcast that strangers still approach him to ask about the extraordinary contest.

The occasion was a World Cup qualifier with Australia. Fielding a hastily cobbled together team full of teenagers, American Samoa went on to ship 31 goals without reply.

Salapu, now 43, says he had to hide tears from his team-mates in the 31-0 defeat.

“I was trying to keep all that emotion in to wait until the game is over,” he says.

There were plenty of mitigating factors in such a heavy loss. For a start, American Samoa’s population at the time was only 58,000, compared to Australia’s 19 million. The minnows had been admitted entry to FIFA only three years earlier.

On top of that, before qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup, FIFA stipulated that only players with an American passport would be allowed to represent the Pacific Island nation. Out of a squad of 20 players, Salapu was the only one who was eligible.

What followed was a desperate scramble to assemble a squad.

“We had to find anyone in two weeks,” he explains. “We ended up selecting kids from high school.”

With three 15-year-olds in their side and an average age of just 18, 20-year-old Salapu was a relative veteran.

Unsurprisingly, the team of novices got off to a bad start in their qualifying campaign, following up a 13-0 loss to Fiji with an 8-0 loss to Samoa. When they lost by a meagre 5-0 to Tonga in their third group game, it must have felt like a relative success.