Tahiti in semi-final dream land

Neither side was keen to concede first in a tension-gripped opening spell but it was the home side that struck first with Tahiti’s Heimanu Taiarui collecting a loose ball at the end of a fine passing movement to give his side the lead.
There was controversy when defender Angelo Tchen suffered a sickening head injury in a clash that eventually resulted in a red card for Argentina’s Santiago Hilaire.
The South Americans were forced to play a man short for two minutes, and Taiarui was unlucky not to notch his second with the resulting free-kick hitting the inside of the upright before bouncing clear of the goal.
Somehow the Argentinians managed to hold on until the first break without conceding despite their numerical disadvantage.
Tahiti keen to capitalise on the momentum they had already built up had a shot cleared off the line just after the restart then missed two clear chances, most notably Tearii Labaste with a point-blank header.
Argentina finally made up ground on the Tahitians when Ezequiel Hilaire equalised from the penalty spot in the only goal of an intensely contested second period.
The accumulated tension was replaced by host nation joy when captain Naea Bennett finally broke his World Cup goal drought with a trademark back post header.
The Tahtian semi-final dream moved a step closer when Taiarui forced a shot through goalkeeper Marcelo Salgueiro’s hands for his second of the night. But the goal scorers joy was cut short when he then earned his second caution of the tournament for excessive celebrations.
The Tiki Toa went 4-1 up with eight minutes remaining when Raimoana Bennett scored with a sensational close-range overhead strike. Raimana Li Fung Kuee converted midway through the final period.
In a bid to retrieve their own semifinal hopes, Argentina heaped pressure on Tahiti’s defence and goalkeeper Jonathan Torohia who withstood the barrage to keep the South Americans at bay. Heiarii Tavanae then sealed the deal with a goal in the dying seconds to take his side to 6-1.
Tahiti will have to await the outcome of the quarter-final match-up between Russia and Iran in the final match of the day to learn their semi-final opponent.
No matter which side they encounter it will be a tough battle for the semi-final debutants, made even more difficult with the loss of prolific goalscorers Raimana Li Fung Kuee and Heimanu Taiarui for the next match after both earned their second cautions of the tournament.
The only Oceania nation to reach the semi-finals of a FIFA tournament are former members Australia who finished runners-up at both the FIFA Confederations Cup in 1997 and FIFA U-17 Men’s World Cup in 1999. Australia also reached the semi-finals of two FIFA U-20 World Cups (1991 and 1993) and one Olympic Games Men’s Football tournament in 1992.
The Tiki Toa will appear in their first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup semi-final on Friday, 27 September at 20h30 (local).


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