- WORLD CUP 2002

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Saturday, April 7, 2001
Fiji open qualifying with 13 goals

COFFS HARBOUR, Australia, April 7 (Reuters) - Fiji thrashed American Samoa 13-0 while Tonga's players kissed the turf after beating Samoa 1-0 in World Cup qualifying matches on Saturday.

Pati Feagiai of American Samoa (left) wins this one from Fiji's Emosi Baleinuku. The game finished 13-0 to Fiji
Pati Feagiai of American Samoa (left) wins this one
Tonga, some of whose players are not used to wearing boots, made a joyous debut as the Oceania zone's qualifying tournament got underway with two group one ties.

Tongan striker Lokoua Taufahema tapped home the winner for the tiny Polynesian nation of around 100,000 people in the 87th minute after Samoa's keeper flapped at a cross from the right.

Fiji, considered the only possible threat to host nation Australia in the group, needed only three minutes to get on the scoreboard against American Samoa and led 8-0 at halftime.

Tongan coach Gary Phillips, a veteran of 379 games and two premierships in the Australian National Soccer League, said the group one team had only been together for a week.

Phillips, 37, said he was notified two weeks ago that the tournament would start on April 7 following uncertainty over fixturing.

The Australian Government decided last month to make a 'one-off concession' to allow soccer players from racially-split Fiji to enter the country for the tournament.

'Tonga lost to Samoa 4-nil last year. I obviously didn't have high hopes of doing well,' Phillips said.

'Some of the players had not worn boots before,' he told Reuters. 'It's our very first World Cup. Our most experienced player has played four games for Tonga.

'To win over Samoa or American Samoa is a big thing for Tonga.'

Shailemdra Lal came off the bench in the 16th minute for Fiji and scored all five of his goals before halftime against American Samoa whose side had an average age of 18.

Esala Masi put Fiji ahead 1-0 with a penalty in the third minute and scored again in the 12th, 51st and 53rd minutes.

American Samoa had arrived this week without boots and were further hampered by an administrative oversight wich meant most of their best players were ineligible to compete because they did not have American passports.

Fiji coach Billy Singh said his players had lost discipline late in the match when nine players crowded in the penalty area and queued up to score.

American Samoa coach Tunoa Lui said his players were not demoralised, adding: 'I think it went okay.'

Australia had a bye on Saturday and will play Tonga on Monday, while American Samoa play Samoa.

The winner of group one will meet the winner of group two in a two-legged playoff in June. The winner of that match will face a further play-off in November against the fifth-placed team from South America for a place in the 2002 finals.


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