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Dangerous Des key to World Cup bid

Fa’aiuaso is yet to get on the scoresheet in the tournament but, along with midfield pair Shaun Easthope and Jared Curtis, has been largely responsible for Samoa’s undefeated run. Those results – a thrilling 3-2 win over Cook Islands and hard-fought 1-1 tie with Tonga – mean the hosts now need only a draw against their American Samoan neighbours tomorrow to progress to the second stage of qualifying.
Unlike the other members of Samoa’s key trio – Easthope is based in Australia while Curtis lives in New Zealand – Fa’aiuaso is a locally-produced player and therefore understands more than most just what progression to stage two would mean to Samoa, a country where the sporting landscape has traditionally been dominated by the oval-ball code.
“We are trying to close the gap between Samoa and the likes of New Zealand because we want to catch up to their level,” Fa’aiuaso says. “We are focusing on trying to improve our game here and will try to step up to the next level.”
The 27–year-old has tasted life at that level after a stint in New Zealand with national league side YoungHeart Manawatu.
“I enjoyed it a lot and it was great to get more experience at a good level because before then I had just played locally,” he says.
“I got to play with and against international players who had played for the All Whites and was able to learn from them and bring some of that back to Samoa with me. Now I am trying to pass it on to my team mates.”
Taking part in the second stage of the path to Brazil would be a chance for Fa’aiuaso’s colleagues to share that experience of a higher level as they would be joining Oceania giants New Zealand and the federation’s other strong footballing nations, namely Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Vanuatu.
All that stands between the Samoans and a place amongst OFC’s elite is American Samoa but a result against the tiny United States territory – who need a win to make the second stage – is not the formality it may once have been.
Historically, a draw against American Samoa would not be a tough ask as they have long been regarded as the minnows of Pacific football and had a far-from-illustrious record on arrival in Apia this week.
But new coach Thomas Rongen, who has previously led the United States U-20 national team and several MLS clubs, has worked wonders during his short spell in charge and – with their first ever FIFA World Cup qualifying points safely secured – American Samoa have a genuine chance of springing an upset on Saturday.
Samoa coach Tunoa Lui is certainly aware of the threat the underdogs pose.
“It is going to be tough and I have been very impressed with the way American Samoa has played,” he says. “Their organisation and fitness levels are both really good and we will have to find a way to get around that and come out as winners.”
The match is likely to be extra special for Lui as he is a former coach of American Samoa and no one is more acutely aware of just how far his former side has come.
Lui took the newly-affiliated American Samoa to their first preliminary tournament in 2001 and, with a number of players from neighbouring Samoa ruled ineligible at the 11th hour, was forced to leave many of his senior players at home. The team suffered four heavy defeats including a 31-0 loss to hosts Australia, which remains a record in FIFA World Cup qualifying.
There is no chance of such a scoreline happening again tomorrow but the Samoan players won’t be complaining if they fail to earn a comprehensive win. A scoreless stalemate or low-scoring draw would do just fine.

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