By Christian Rizzitelli
Tiny southern Pacific island nation Tahiti became the first team to break the stronghold of New Zealand and Australia in the region by lifting the 2012 Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Nations Cup last Sunday with a 1-0 final triumph over New Caledonia. Incredibly the result booked Tahiti's place at the 2013 Confederations Cup where they may come up against the eventual victor of the 2012 European Championship.
With an exciting year to come now for the French Polynesian island, Goal.com introduces how Tahiti are trying to make a name for themselves on football's global stage.
|A PROUD HISTORY
Despite being little-known for their football achievements, Tahiti can vaunt a proud tradition at continental level. Before winning this year's OFC Nations Cup, the Polynesian island finished second place in their first three efforts, only to be outplayed by regional superpowers Australia (who moved to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006) and New Zealand (famously unbeaten at the 2010 Fifa World Cup).
Tahiti's five outcomes at the South Pacific Games, a competition contested by Pacific nations, helped them to increase their reputation across the region, but in recent years the Francophone island failed to show off their historic forcefulness after some poor displays which saw them drop their dominant position in Oceania.
|"The unexpected qualification of the nation's youth side at the 2009 U-20 World Cup gave Tahitian football fans something to cheer about, before being hammered 8-0 by Spain and Venezuela and 5-0 by Nigeria"
A miserable performance at the 2007 Pacific Games prevented them from taking part in the subsequent Nations Cup, turning them away from Oceania's elite football. But the unexpected qualification of the nation's youth side at the 2009 Under-20 World Cup gave Tahitian football fans something to cheer about, before being hammered 8-0 by Spain and Venezuela respectively and 5-0 by Nigeria.
After that, football returned to run in Tahitians' blood and the country started a redevelopment project which culminated with the illustrious triumph over New Caledonia.
|2012 OFC NATIONS CUP, HISTORIC SUCCESS
For this year's Nations Cup, coach Eddy Etatea drew six players (Teheivarii Ludivion, Heimano Bourebare, Steevy Chong Hue and Lorenzo, Jonathan and Teaonui Tehau) from the side that reached the U20 World Cup in 2009 and their experience proved to be vital for the team's achievement.
After a 10-1 annihilation of underdogs Samoa, Tahiti prevailed 4-3 and 4-1 over New Caledonia and Vanuatu respectively, securing a spot in the semi-finals and OFC third-round of Brazil 2014 qualifiers. Even hosts Solomon Islands, inspired by an incandescent crowd, couldn't stop Tahiti's run to the trophy in the last four.
In the decider, Etaeta's men met New Caledonia in an unlikely match-up as Les Cagous surprised favourite New Zealand with an amazing 2-0 victory in the other semi-final. Chong-Hue scored Tahitian football's most important goal in the decider and a great team effort in the second half enabled them to preserve the result until the final whistle.
“It’s unbelievable, completely incredible,” Etaeta told Fifa.com after the match. “This path started 12 years ago and now we have finally achieved our goal and will go to the Confederations Cup.” These brief but significant words explain how huge Tahiti's success is.
|“It’s unbelievable, completely incredible. This path started 12 years ago and now we have finally achieved our goal and will go to the Confederations Cup”
- Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta
|A NEW GENERATION OF TALENT
Tahiti are looking to build on this extraordinary momentum, as they seek to increase the amount of talent available to Etatea for the upcoming Confederations Cup and World Cup qualifiers.
In the Nations Cup squad, only defender Tamatoa Wagemann, who plays in France with US Change and star striker Chong Hue, from Belgian club FC Bleid-Gaume, were based abroad. Others, like Player of the Tournament Nicolas Vallar, an ex-Montpellier centre-back, or former Monaco reserves' goalkeeper Mikael Roche, have already tasted European football, but Etatea wants more depth in his roster and is keen on including further overseas stars like Monaco's Marama Vahirua.
“Some players who weren’t here meant our squad was not at full strength,” said Etatea. “It is difficult for us to have all our players at our disposal because of club commitments. But we have some players like Marama Vahirua to come in.”
It's not out of the realm of possibility, too, to see some of Tahiti's performers at the Nations Cup playing abroad one day. The coach said: “We hope that Alvin, Jonathan and Lorenzo [Tehau] could find professional clubs in Australia, New Zealand or the USA, maybe even in Europe. They have each had strong performances in the Nations Cup.”
Whatever happens with their club careers, the 2013 Confederations Cup here they come!