Category: Tahiti



In this age of world football television coverage and instant internet connection, it’s unusual to have a team of unknown quantity at a major competition, but that’s exactly how Tahiti appear to many football fans looking forward to this month’s Confederations Cup in Brazil.

In fairness, it’s hardly surprising that few are familiar with either Tahiti or their players – this is the first time Toa Aito have qualified for a major tournament; they have never reached the World Cup finals, and last year’s Oceania Nations Cup victory – which earned Tahiti a place at the Confederations Cup – was the first time the country has come out on top in their region.

The turnaround in fortunes has been incredibly quick: historically an also-ran in the Oceania Confederation, as recently as 2007 Tahiti failed to even qualify for the Nations Cup, faring only marginally better than minnows Tuvalu and the Cook Islands in the qualification process. The team’s future looked bleak, and even the most optimistic of Tahitians would have ruled out any major success in the foreseeable future. Credit must be given to the Fédération Tahitienne de Football, who recognised the need for change and have managed an impressively rapid rate of improvement.

Tahiti celebrate an unlikely triumph at the 2012 Nations Cup

Their efforts culminated in the hiring of Eddy Etaeta, an ex-Tahiti international as a player, as the country’s new manager in 2010. Etaeta, only 43 himself, has successfully blooded a new generation of youngsters – over half of the squad for the Confederations Cup are aged 24 and under. Many of these fresh faces came from the national under-20 team, which had reached the U-20 World Cup for the first time in Tahiti’s history in 2009.

Inevitably, for a nation of around 250,000, Etaeta’s squad is bereft of the kind of big names that Tahiti’s Group B rivals Spain, Uruguay and Nigeria possess, but the coach has been able to make one quality addition to his almost exclusively locally-based group. AS Nancy striker Marama Vahirua, born in the Tahitian capital Papeete, has finally linked up with his compatriots, having spent most of his career in France. Vahirua is set to make his international debut at the unusually ripe age of 33, but his vast experience at Ligue 1 level should prove beneficial for a Tahiti squad lacking in knowledge of European playing styles.

His playing CV may be significantly more impressive than his team-mates’, but Etaeta insists there will be no favourable treatment in the dressing room: “We don’t have any key players. We have always put the spotlight on the bigger picture: the state of mind and being a group. For me, the star is the whole team.” Nevertheless, Vahirua looks like the side’s best bet for a goal at the finals.

A cursory glance at the remainder of Etaeta’s squad list returns the oddity of no fewer than four players with the same surname: brothers Alvin, Lorenzo  and Jonathan Tehau will all be competing for midfield places, while their cousin Teaonui has recently made the breakthrough to the senior side as a promising forward. Says Alvin, “I’m very proud to play in the national team with my family. We are a unit…I think it helps the team as a whole.”

Captain Nicholas Vallar also boasts professional experience, having spent three years at Montpellier; after spells at lower-league clubs in France and Portugal, the 29-year-old returned home in 2009 to play for AS Dragon, Tahiti’s current league champions. Striker Steevy Chong-Hue, of mixed Chinese-Tahitian heritage, similarly made the jump to Europe – joining Belgium’s BX Brussels, recently taken over by Vincent Kompany – before re-signing for AS Dragon.

Tahiti will play Spain at the Maracanã on 20 June – slightly more luxurious surroundings than their 10,000 capacity Stade Hamuta

With the 2012 Nations Cup final Tahiti’s last competitive fixture, Etaeta set up a game  in February of this year against Australian outfit Sydney FC, which the A-League franchise comfortably won 4-0. A more recent tour of Chile yielded wins over Universidad de Chile’s under-20 team and second tier Deportes Magallanes, but in their last warm-up game Tahiti were thrashed 7-0 by Chile’s under-20 side.

Results haven’t exactly been reassuring ahead of the country’s biggest test yet, then, and even the two victories are of doubtful use: the gulf in class between the Chilean second division and world champions Spain is wider than Etaeta’s grin will be if Tahiti pull off an upset or two later this month. However, the Fédération Tahitienne de Football have defended the decision to play low-key opposition, citing the need to “build confidence for the future”. Etaeta concurs: “We’re not in denial – we know 8-10 weeks of professional training isn’t going to make up for the 10 years of professionalism that separates us from Spain or Uruguay.”

However, the mild confidence-building of those wins will surely have been ruined by the 7-0 hammering which followed. Etaeta will have a huge job on his hands if he is to convince his players they are capable of taking on Xavi, Iniesta and co, and the flight to Brazil the day after the under-20 defeat was no doubt in more sombre spirits than is healthy given the size of the task ahead.

And the team’s spirit will have been further damaged by Tahiti’s disastrous 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign which ended in elimination in March – with Toa Aito having just one win and two goals to their name after six games. Upsets in Brazil, then, are unlikely, but at least Etaeta is realistic in his targets for the upcoming tournament: “to not concede any goals in a half would be impressive in itself. But above all, to score a goal would be a huge achievement.” That seems reasonable, and you have to hope the minnows have a Hollywood ending to a story no-one could have dreamt up a year ago.


The sixth and final round of the 2014 Oceania region World Cup qualifying group ended on Tuesday with New Zealand completing a perfect qualifying campaign, winning all six games, while second-placed New Caledonia recorded a 1-0 win over Tahiti. After beating the Solomon Islands 2-0 in their final group game, New Zealand will face the fourth-placed team in the CONCACAF region in an inter-continental play-off in November for a place at the World Cup proper.

Solomon Islands 0

New Zealand 2 (Payne 3,88)

Their place in the inter-continental play-off already confirmed, New Zealand boss Ricki Herbert opted to send the majority of his first-team squad back to their clubs, travelling to the Solomon Islands with a team largely made up of fringe players. With the Solomons also fielding a much-changed line-up – only captain Henry Fa’arodo and winger Benjamin Totori survived from the 2-0 loss to Tahiti four days earlier – it was destined to be a stop-start game with both sets of players unfamiliar with their team-mates.

It was Blackburn Rovers striker Tim Payne who did the most to impress Ricki Herbert, opening the scoring on three minutes from fully 25 yards. Employed “in the hole” behind the main striker, Payne would prove to be a thorn in the Solomons’ side throughout, and will surely be rewarded for this lively display with more senior call-ups in the future.

Tim Payne boosted his chances of international football with a brace

Fa’arodo provided the home side’s biggest threat, and after two free-kicks had earlier sailed over the crossbar, the midfielder managed to force Jacob Spoonley into a fine stop on 22 minutes. The strike led to a spell of increased pressure by the Bonitos, but their momentum was halted by an enforced water break as Tahitian referee Averii Jacques acknowledged the searing heat in Honiara.

New Zealand looked the sharper side after the water break, and Kosta Barbarouses came within a whisker of doubling the All Blacks’ lead when his effort grazed the crossbar just before half-time. Looking for only their second win in the group stage, the Solomons took the game to their visitors in the second half but were frustrated by a stubborn New Zealand defence showing why it has conceded just two goals in the six games.

And it was the All Blacks who had the last laugh as Payne grabbed his second of the game with just two minutes of normal time remaining, pouncing to score after Barbarouses’ shot had been blocked. Solomons coach Jacob Moli has work to do, and will quickly need to establish who his best starting XI are; his team finished bottom of the group on goal difference, conceding an average of over three goals per game.

The performances of Payne and other fringe players will have given Ricki Herbert some pleasant selection headaches ahead of the play-off in November, but it was the inclusion of one player, defender Andrew Durante, which attracted particular attention from the media. Centre-back Durante, Australian by birth, became a naturalized New Zealand citizen at the start of this month and was included in the squad for the games against New Caledonia and Solomon Islands.

With New Zealand failing to receive official confirmation from FIFA that Durante was eligible to play, Herbert understandably chose not to field Durante against New Caledonia on 22 March, but with FIFA still playing hard to get, the coach handed Durante a debut in the hope that his selection would provoke a FIFA inquiry that would accelerate their eligibility confirmation.

New Zealand would actually encourage either the Solomons or the Oceania Football Confederation questioning Durante’s eligibility in order to get the matter deferred to FIFA – as the All Blacks’ performance manager Fred de Jong says, “It’s a waiting game for us. We are waiting to see if anything has come out of the game that would instigate an investigation into Durante’s eligibility.”

New Caledonia 1 (Lolohea 85)

Tahiti 0

New Caledonia ended a fine qualifying campaign on a high after recording a narrow win over Tahiti. Les Cagous took maximum points from their fixtures against Tahiti and the Solomon Islands, but their failure to take anything from their games against New Zealand cost them in the race to finish at the top of the group.

The first half followed the form-book, with the dominant hosts only denied by a combination of wasteful finishing and good goalkeeping by Tahiti captain Xavier Samin. Aided by a triple substitution early in the second half, New Caledonia continued their pressure after the break, while Tahiti struggled to create any clear-cut chances.

Tahiti’s Stanley Atani (left) battles for the ball

Just as the game looked like ending goalless – and therefore being, incredibly, the only draw of the entire group stage – New Caledonia finally made their dominance count with five minutes left on the clock. Cesar Lolohea’s volley ensured all three points stayed in Noumea, and that Tahiti were eliminated from the qualification process with just a solitary win to their name.

With Tahiti also having been soundly beaten 4-0 by Australian A-League side FC Sydney in February, Eddie Etaeta’s men look destined to be on the end of some heavy defeats in their 2013 Confederations Cup group later this year – which also includes world champions Spain, as well as star-studded Uruguay and Nigeria teams.


New Zealand guaranteed their position at the top of the group for 2014 World Cup qualification, and in doing so booked their place for a play-off against the fourth-placed team from the CONCACAF region. Their opponents, New Caledonia, were subsequently eliminated from the qualification process, as were group stage strugglers Tahiti and the Solomon Islands, who also faced off in the group stage’s penultimate round of fixtures this weekend.

New Zealand (Killen 10, Smith 90+4)

New Caledonia 1 (Lolohea 56)

Regional heavyweights New Zealand ended plucky New Caledonia’s challenge for the group stage title with a dramatic 2-1 win in Dunedin. Second-placed New Caledonia needed a win to keep their chances of reaching Brazil alive, and battled admirably being cruelly denied an admirable draw when Tommy Smith headed the hosts into an inter-continental play-off in the fourth minute of injury time.

Both sides had chances in the opening stages of the game, but it was New Zealand who struck first when ex-Celtic striker Chris Killen converted Leo Bertos’ 10th-minute corner. The early goal changed the dynamic of the game, with New Caledonia now forced to come out of their shell in order to stand any chance of grabbing the three points they needed.

New Zealand’s Tommy Smith (right) celebrates his last-gasp winner

Sure enough, Les Cagous upped the tempo, with attackers Georges Gope-Fenepej (the tournament’s top scorer), Cesar Lolohea and Bertrand Kai all looking dangerous, but on 26 minutes it was New Zealand who almost grabbed a second goal. Once more, a set-piece proved New Caledonia’s undoing, as Marco Rojas’ free-kick was met by a thundering Tommy Smith header, but the Ipswich defender’s effort bounced back off the crossbar.

The remainder of the first half progressed in end-to-end fashion; few clear chances were created, but, as half-time loomed on the horizon, Smith hit the bar for the second time in 20 minutes. A frantic goalmouth scramble in the visitors’ box ended with the centre-back toeing the ball onto the bar from close range, and New Caledonia survived until half-time with just the one goal conceded.

Les Cagous duly regrouped during the interval, and coach Alain Moizan’s team-talk had an almost immediate effect: just ten minutes of the second half had elapsed when Lolohea expertly controlled a Bertrand Kai cross on his chest before firing beyond Mark Paston, silencing the watching Kiwis in the stands.

Further goals proved elusive for both sides, and New Caledonia survived a scare in the last minute of normal time when Shane Smeltz’s penalty appeals were waved away by Australian referee Strebre Delovski, but the All Blacks were not to be denied. Just seconds remained when Smith made it third time lucky by reacting quickest to a loose ball and looping a header over visiting keeper Rocky Nyikeine.

New Zealand will be relieved to have avoided needing a result in the final game to confirm their group-stage win, but New Caledonia pushed them all the way and that is encouraging for the future of Oceanic football.

 

Tahiti 2 (Bourebare 28, Vallar 82)

Solomon Islands 0

Tahiti finally claimed their first group-stage victory at the fifth attempt, with a 2-0 win over fellow strugglers Solomon Islands. They were helped by Solomons player-coach Henry Fa’arodo naming a much-changed starting line-up – just Fa’arodo (obviously!) and Benjamin Totori survived from their last game, a 5-0 loss to New Caledonia.

Solomons’ player-coach Totori (green) tries to lead by example

The hosts began the game strongly, and it was little surprise when they opened the scoring midway through the first half when Donovan Bourebare crashed home a free-kick. Totori came closest to restoring parity for the Solomons, but Tahiti ensured their lead lasted until half-time.

The second half was disrupted by a string of yellow cards and substitutions for both teams, but it was Tahiti who came closer to scoring again. Steevy Chong Hue’s center was met by Yannick Vero, but the forward was brilliantly denied by Solomons custodian Sammy Osso. However, Tahiti sealed a deserved win eight minutes from time as skipper Nicolas Vallar beat Osso from range.

The two sides are now tied on three points with one match remaining, cast well adrift of New Caledonia and champions New Zealand. Tahiti will be reassured by a return to winning ways after their four-match losing streak, especially with the Confederations Cup in Brazil looming later this year. Solomons’ player-coach Totori has a lot of work to do on this showing if he is to turn his nation into genuine regional contenders, and his radical team selection may require several more matches to gel.


The Oceania region’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign will end next week, with the final group stage games on 22 and 26 of March determining who will represent the Oceania Football Confederation in a play-off against the fourth-placed CONCACAF nation for a spot in the tournament proper in Brazil next year.

Predictably, regional heavyweights New Zealand top the table after four games, having won every match so far, and only second-placed New Caledonia can still qualify for the inter-confederation play-off by topping the group ahead of the Kiwis. Naturally, then, all eyes will be on these two teams’ decisive clash on 22 March at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium; win and New Zealand guarantee their progress to the play-off, lose and they and New Caledonia will enter the last game on 26 March level on points.

All smiles: Gope-Fenepej has fired New Caledonia into second place

The group’s other contestants, Tahiti and Solomon Islands, have endured torrid qualifying campaigns – 2012 OFC Nations Cup winners Tahiti (who will be representing Oceania at this year’s Confederations Cup in Brazil) have lost every game, failing even to score once in the process. Seeing as this goal-shyness has been matched by an equally poor defensive record of  11 goals conceded in those four games, Tahiti could be in for some heavy defeats in Brazil if things fail to improve. Although the Solomon Islands do have one win to their name -against the hapless Tahitians, obviously – they have shipped even more goals, being drubbed 6-1 by New Zealand and 6-2 by New Caledonia.

New Caledonia’s unprecedented success has been largely thanks to the goals of Georges Gope-Fenepej, who has a record of almost a goal per game at international level since making his debut in August 2011. Gope-Fenepej netted a hat-trick in that 6-2 demolition of the Solomons, and with six goals in total he is by far the tournament’s leading scorer.  It’s unsurprising, then, that top-flight French side Troyes took a gamble on the frontman in 2012, and although Gope-Fenepej has only made one first-team appearance in his first season at the club, he has bagged three goals in nine games for Troyes’ reserve team. The 24-year-old’s impressive transfer will give hope to his compatriots and other players from a region whose stars rarely make it outside Australia and New Zealand.

New Caledonia legend Charles Teamboueon, who passed away last week

However, Les Cagous’ recent positive performances on-field have been somewhat overshadowed by the death last week of one of the best players the country has ever produced, Charles Teamboueon, who passed away at the age of 73. Teamboueon broke the mould by earning a call-up to the New Caledonia national team in 1965 despite playing in the national second division. As the man himself said, “That posed a few problems because at the time the national team was composed only of players from the first division.” However, Teamboueon emphatically justified his selection by scoring four times on his debut against German giants Stuttgart, inspiring his country to a 5-1 win.

Teamboueon opted to move to France in 1966, and within two years he had been selected for France’s national amateur team, reaching the quarter-finals of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. He retired in 1972 through injury, but was still managing New Caledonian side AS Mont-Dore as recently as 2007, guiding the club to a national Cup win that year.