But underdogs deserve their place
11 June ~ The last time Tahiti stepped out for a major tournament, the result was a surprise but sobering defeat. The only shock as Tahiti start their inaugural Confederations Cup campaign against Africa Cup of Nations holders Nigeria on June 17 will be if the Polynesians avoid defeat. Three days later Tahiti play European and world champions Spain at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro before the final group game with Copa América holders, Uruguay in Recife. Tahiti is the smallest place to play in a senior FIFA competition.
Around 180,000 people live there, with another 70,000 people in the wider overseas collective of French Polynesia. That political status means that Tahiti are members of both FIFA and the French FA and get to take part in the biennial Overseas Cup for France's overseas territories in Paris. Staged and funded by the French FA, the competition provided Tahiti with their last major tournament.
Manager Eddy Etaeta and his side were put up in Clairefontaine after flying into Paris from Papeete, a trip that took 42 hours. Tahiti were still jet lagged as they marched out into the sun at Stade Jean-Bouin in the Paris suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux to take on Mayotte, watched by a few hundred spectators. Tahiti's only professional, Marama Vahirua, who is at French team Nancy but spent last season mostly on loan at Greek side Panthrakikos, was not there but the rest of the squad likely to be in Brazil were. The result: Tahiti lost 3-1 with Etaeta getting himself sent off. To put that defeat in perspective, the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte is not affiliated to any regional confederation, only the French FA.
Tahiti's squad does have overseas experience. Utility player Tamatoa Wagemann played in Germany for Waldhof Mannheim and Switzerland for FC Alle. Defender Nicolas Vallar turned out for French side FC Sète and veteran midfielder Sebastien Labayen also has experience in France. Striker Alvin Tehau played professionally in Indonesia's second division for Atjeh United. The squad also has big tournament experience through Tahiti's appearance at the 2009 Under-20 World Cup finals. Steevy Chong Hue, Ariihau Teritau, Stanley Atani and two other Tehaus, Alvin's twin brother Lorenzo and their cousin Teaonui, were in Egypt in 2009 and are expected to be in Brazil.
The Under-20 World Cup produced heavy defeats to Spain, Nigeria and Venezuela. With Tahiti recently losing 7-0 to Chile's Under-20s the Confederations Cup promises worse and will undoubtedly lead to the their presence being questioned. But, just as in 2009, Tahiti successfully qualified, this time by beating New Caledonia in the 2012 Oceania Nations Cup final. Football is a global game and not the preserve solely of big nations. For better or worse, Tahiti's presence in Brazil will be a reminder of that. Steve Menary