Tahiti lift the 2012 OFC Nations Cup. Photo: OFC via Phototek
The win has been described by FIFA.com as the "watershed event in the timeline of football in the Pacific" as for the first time in the 39-year history of the continental tournament a Pacific Islands nation had won.
The historic result qualified Tahiti – commonly known as Toa Aito or the Great Warriors in English – for the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013 and was the latest achievement in a monumental period in the game for the French overseas territory.
Tahiti sprung a surprise by qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 with a 'golden generation', before achieving continental success on sand to reach the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Italy in 2011. In another first for the Oceania region, Tahiti is set to host the competition themselves in 2013.
The 'golden generation' were at the forefront of the success in the Solomon Islands and the result of an ambitious project that began over a decade ago as coach Eddy Etaeta can attest to.
"This path started 12 years ago and now we have finally achieved our goal and will go to the FIFA Confederations Cup," he says.
Brothers Jonathan, Lorenzo and Alvin Tehau, as well as cousin Teaonui, created a fascinating sub-plot by scoring a remarkable 15 goals between them while Tahiti captain Nicolas Vallar was named player of the tournament.
Vallar is blessed to have a French passport – as do all Tahitians – meaning travel and work in Europe is not fraught with the same red-tape that faces non-EU passport holders. As a 16-year-old, he travelled to France to join Angers and continued his development with a number of lower-league clubs before achieving promotion to Ligue 2 with Sete.
After spending the best part of a decade in France, Vallar is now back playing in his homeland, where he finally appears to be living the dream. Remarkably, the 28-year-old defender only made his debut for Tahiti in his country’s opening Nations Cup match against Samoa.
Another player Etaeta is hoping will make a late debut for Toa Aito is Marama Vahirua, one of Tahiti’s most famous footballing sons. The 32-year-old former French U-21 international is a prodigiously talented striker with over 320 appearances in France’s top-flight under his belt but despite being named in the squad for the September matches is yet to front in the red and white of the national team.
Tahiti warmed up for the October matches in the OFC Stage 3 qualifiers with a trip to Paris last month for the third edition of the French Overseas Territories Cup, a biennial event involving the national teams of French overseas territories and former territories.
Tahiti finished sixth in the eight-team tournament, losing the match for fifth place 2-1 against Guyane. Their Pacific cousins and long-time rivals New Caledonia finished seventh after the two sides met in the final match of group play with Tahiti coming out on top with a 1-0 win.
New Caledonia went into the game on the back of a resounding away 4-0 win in their last encounter against Tahiti in the Stage 3 qualifiers in Papeete earlier in the month, but it was the Toa Aito with the finishing touch on this occasion. Tahiti had earlier secured a 3-2 win over Martinique after having earlier suffered a 3-1 loss to Mayotte.
The return to winning ways could not have come at a better time for the confederation champions, who prop up the standings having lost their opening two Oceania qualifying matches. The losses against the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia mean Toa Aito must now take something from their upcoming meetings with the All Whites to keep their hopes alive.
But with a recent track record of success on their side no one should rule out another fairytale story in this monumental period of Tahitian football.
Story courtesy of New Zealand Football.
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