When you think Tahiti you think glorious sunshine, idyllic tropical islands and more often than not a holiday of a lifetime. What you don’t think of is a Tahitian football team facing off against teams like Spain as equals for 90 minutes in the Confederations Cup.
I say equals in a sense that they qualified as winners of their FIFA region in order to get there, rather than equals on a purely footballing basis, indeed if this was the case then they would have proved better opposition than their 6-1 10-0 and 8-0 score lines indicate. Tahiti finished bottom of the group and will be going home without a point. They will hold their heads up proudly however, as anyone you would have asked before the tournaments started, myself included, would have asked whether a new record for most goals scored in a game would have been set.
Fast forward a week and it has not turned out to be the case. 24 goals conceded by a team of ‘amateurs, coconut tree climbers and bus boys’ in 3 games is a remarkable achievement. 9 of the Tahitian squad is unemployed, though for the last 3 months they were given contracts by the FA of Tahiti, so for April, May and June at least, they were professionals, equals.
From the men who came out wearing what turned out to be an old form of Tahitian currency around their necks against Nigeria to the ones who were applauded at full time of their last match, an 8-0 defeat to Uruguay, the Tahiti national team have gained thousands more fans, friends, who admire them for the way they carried themselves during the tournament. Few other teams could say they were cheered off the pitch half way across the world after losing 10-0 to Spain, but the Tahitian team is one of them.
Some so called critics have slated the Tahitians, John Hartson on the BBC described them as ‘embarrassing’, but then again who doesn’t get embarrassed by Spain. Tahiti has managed to capture our hearts not by outplaying teams, but instead by ‘giving it a go’, going all out if not to win, to certainly try and score a goal. As a team of non pro’s it was highly unlikely they were ever going to get a point let alone a win against some of the best teams in the world, but they certainly scared some teams with their attacking, leading the ever cynical Mark Lawrenson to concede that they ‘can compete’ when they attack, admitting they looked ‘an international side’. If you find me a time when he’s ever said that about other international teams made up of amateurs such as San Marino then I will certainly be surprised.
We Brits always love a plucky underdog, and if that’s a plucky underdog that goes for the throat at every occasion then all the better. Yes they were out of their depth at times, yes their defensive line was suicidal, but I bet when Jonathan Tehoue headed in against Nigeria, you all smiled, even if it was only a little.