16th June, 2013
Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta says his motley crew of delivery men, PE teachers and accountants will put their hearts on the line when they tackle African champions Nigeria in the Confederations Cup on Monday.
The Group B fixture in Belo Horizonte will be one of the biggest mismatches in the recent history of international football.
Tahiti, representing the French Polynesian islands in the south Pacific, are ranked 138th in the FIFA ranking and have never played in a major tournament, while Nigeria boast players from some of Europe’s top sides.
Etaeta’s pre-game tactics have included broadcasting crowd noise during training sessions to steel his players for the challenges awaiting them in Brazil, where they will also tackle Uruguay and world champions Spain.
The three games threaten to be chastening experiences, but Etaeta, who has worked with some of his squad since they were 10 years old, says his players will not lack courage.
“Of the 23 players we have, we have nine players who don’t work, who are practically unemployed,” he said at Sunday’s pre-game press conference.
“Some are delivery men, some are PE teachers, one works in accounting, and I also have a player who is a sports coach.
“My defender (Teheivarii) Ludivion gets up every day at four o’clock in the morning, puts on his shoes and spends all day working as a climber. Then, at five o’clock, he comes to train with his football club.”
He added: “We won’t have the same weapons, technically, tactically, and physically, but tomorrow (Monday), we’ll certainly have the heart and that’s our weapon — our heart and spirit.”
Tahiti have just one professional in their ranks in striker Marama Vahirua, who will make his international debut against Nigeria after being drafted into the squad to provide much-needed experience.
The 33-year-old, who currently plays for Greek club Panthrakikos, says his new colleagues have eagerly sought his advice.
“Most of them just play for pleasure, whereas for me, it’s my job,” said Vahirua, whose cousin, Pascal, played for France in the early 1990s.
“They’re very demanding. They want to work and to progress because in all our heads, we don’t want to look ridiculous.”
Tahiti qualified for the tournament of continental champions by winning last year’s Oceania Nations Cup, and Etaeta admits Australia’s defection to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006 was instrumental in his side’s emergence.
“When Australia left, it opened the door,” he said. “If they were still in Oceania, never, never would a country made up of islands have had a chance to play in a big international competition.
“Today, a tiny little country in the middle of the Pacific with a population of 270,000 people will write its name in football history.
“We are proud to represent amateur football. We often talk of stars — (Andres) Iniesta and Xavi of Spain, (Luis) Suarez of Uruguay, (Ikechukwu) Uche or (Victor) Moses of Nigeria — but today, the star is Tahiti.”
Vahirua’s achievements include scoring the goal that won the French Ligue 1 championship for Nantes in 2001, but even he admits that he is pinching himself.
“Playing a competition like this, particularly at the end of my career, is simply unimaginable,” he said.
“I never even dared to dream about this day. I’m living a waking dream. It’s the culmination of my entire career. I feel like it’s a gift my country is giving to me, not the opposite.”