I’m a keen football fan, so much so i have been told I can silence an entire pub if my team scores, so when my native Scotland failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, like every year since 1998, I adopted another nation to support and cheer on and this time it is the New Zealand National Football Team, so I like to follow the qualification process that is for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in the Oceania region.
Currently there are four teams battling out for a place in the one of the two groups that make up the second stage of the qualification, they being Samoa, Cook Islands, Tonga and American Samoa.
American Samoa are the name which stands out due to something of an infamous record, they are the team which suffered the biggest loss in any FIFA sanctioned match, losing 31-0 to Australia in 2001 and have never won an official match in their seventeen year history, making them officially the worst team in the world in the FIFA rankings.
That was until the just two days ago when they faced the much fancied Tonga in their first match of the qualification tour for the 2014 World Cup. An absolute wondergoal from Ramin Ott started the celebrations before Kaneti Falela sealed the win with fifteen minutes left even though Tonga pulled one back with two minutes to spare, as the tiny Pacific nation endured a nervy finish for their 2-1 win.
What makes this such an incredibly feat is the team, which is filled with players who don’t even play for any club and just have ordinary day jobs on the island. The few who are lucky enough to play for clubs only play for clubs in the American Samoa league, the nucleus of the team is very much kept on the island where football is behind the likes of American Football and professional wrestling in popularity.
After the match the scenes were unbelievable. I’ve never seen a team celebrate so much after the final whistle, this wasn’t just a win, this was the first time that this team hadn’t tasted the bitterness of defeat and only this Thursday, the same team managed to draw 1-1 against Cook Islands to take them top of the group. This sets up a date with destiny against neighbours Samoa who are the only other team who can qualify from the group.
Football is not the leading sport in the Oceania region, the tiny populations and popularity of rugby leave it a distant second, it even forced Australia to leave the region in 2006 to join the Asia region. Yet the performance by New Zealand in the 2010 World Cup, where they remained the only team in the competition to leave undefeated, as even the mighty Spain were defeated in their opening match, has improved and enhanced football so much more in the region. Now if American Samoa can qualify and reach the second stage of the qualification process, just imagine what that could do for the footballing future of the country and maybe even the region.