Samoa ends American Samoa’s dream run
A last-minute goal put Samoa into the next stage of Oceania’s
World Cup qualifying, beating American Samoa 1-0 on Sunday to end
the tiny Pacific nation’s captivating run.
American Samoa, 204th and last in FIFA rankings, captured world
attention when it beat Tonga in its opening match at the
four-nation, round-robin tournament, notching its first-ever
Another win Sunday would have seen it advance to round two of
qualifying, and the defense, based around center back Johnny Saelua
– thought to be the world’s first transgender international – held
strong until the 90th minute when Silao Malo scored on a
Samoa now progresses to the next stage in Oceania qualifying,
where it will be in a round-robin group pitted against New
Caledonia, Tahiti and Vanuatu. The other second-round group
involves 2010 World Cup qualifier New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New
Guinea and the Solomon Islands, with the top two from each group to
The second round will be played in Fiji next June and doubles as
the 2012 Oceania Nations Cup.
Saturday’s match in Apia was played on a pitch sodden by recent
rain. Samoa dominated the first half but couldn’t break the defense
of its smaller Pacific neighbor. Its appeal for a penalty in the
28th minute, when it claimed American Samoa’s Tala Luvu had handled
the ball in the penalty box, was denied by New Zealand referee
American Samoa goalkeeper Nicky Salapu pulled off a series of
outstanding saves, including two in succession to deny Malo in the
44th and 45th minutes.
Salapu fended off another shot from Malo in the 59th minute and
a tricky, angled shot from Desmond Fa’aiuaso a minute later. Shaun
Easthope and Lionel Taylor also had dangerous shots on goal in the
second half but Salapu kept Samoa scoreless until the 90th
American Samoa, which needed a win to overtake Samoa for top
spot in the standings, had its best chance in the 81st minute when
Diamond Ott went one-on-one with Samoa goalkeeper Masi Toetu but
his shot hit the post. Ott was also denied by Toetu in the 90th
minute and Malo scored from the subsequent counterattack.
Despite the defeat, American Samoa were still the stars of the
tournament, playing well above their world ranking. Former Ajax
Amsterdam player and longtime MLS coach Thomas Rongen took charge
of American Samoa only weeks before the tournament and shaped them
into a well-organized and confident squad.
Saelua drew particular world attention. The defender, who was
making his World Cup debut after playing for American Samoa at
South Pacific Games in 2007 and this year, is a fa’afafine – a
biological male raised as a woman, forming effectively a third
gender in Polynesian culture.
American Samoa has only around 1,000 registered football
players. The sport lags in popularity behind sports such as
basketball and American football in the U.S. protectorate but is
played in both elementary and high schools.
In Saturday’s other game, Tonga beat Cook Islands 2-1.