Next goal wins – but not if you’re the goalkeeper! 

By Razeen Gutta

Twenty-three years ago this week, American Samoa goalkeeper Nicky Salapu was on the receiving end of a record 31 goals as Australia picked up the biggest win in international football history.

Salapu was the only eligible player by Fifa regulations to make the team from the 20-man squad, resulting in a handful of teenagers quickly taking form in front of him. 

“We had to find anyone in two weeks. We ended up selecting kids from high school,” Salapu told BBC’s Sporting Witness podcast, as he looked back on the extraordinary events. 

The 43-year-old added that he still gets asked about the game even today; and that at the time he had to hide tears from his teammates. 

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

The 31-0 Fifa World Cup qualifying defeat set the tone for a remarkable decades-old story, though, and Salapu would get his redeeming moment. 

Recently told on the big screen in the form of Taika Waititi’s 2023 film Next Goal Wins, the film chronicles manager Thomas Rongen’s achievements as he helped American Samoa to their first-ever Fifa-recognised victory in 2011.

Salapu came out of retirement as Rongen switched from a 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 formation to improve defensively as American Samoa defeated Tonga 2-1. The goalkeeper continues to represent the national team over two decades later. 

The film is currently streaming on Disney Plus. 

Pictured above: Nicky Salapu

Image source: @australiafut


Recent articles