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Tahitian dream over

In what has been one of the most memorable World Cup campaigns of any Oceania side to date the hosts were slowly undone by the experienced Russians who took the game 5-3.
Despite their pedigree the result was never assured for the Europeans who were forced to come from behind by a Tahitian side determined to continue the journey and qualify for their first FIFA World Cup final.
Tahiti were unfortunately short of two of their key players, Raimana Li Fung Kuee and Heimanu Taiarui, and despite the depth in coach Angelo Schirinzi’s squad the absence of the pair was noticeable.
The first period saw shots flying in at the goalkeepers at both ends of To’ata Stadium before the defending champions managed to edge ahead with three minutes remaining. Tahiti defender Teva Zaveroni fouled Dimitrii Shishin setting the Russian up to score his eighth goal of the tournament from the resulting free-kick.
Zaveroni came close to making amends almost immediately only to direct a spectacular overhead kick wide of the target.
Following the break the mood changed almost instantly as Patrick Tepa sent a stunning strike past Russia keeper Andrey Bukhlitskiy for the much sought after equaliser.
Russia upped the pressure on the hosts and it was once again Shishin who pounced after Tahiti lost possession to knock home and hand his side the lead once again.
A fortunate deflection allowed the Tiki Toa entry back into the match when a Raimoana Bennett shot was deflected past Bukhlitskiy.
The joy was short-lived for the hosts when first period goal scorer Tepa was sent off after receiving a second caution for diving – a hugely controversial decision by referee Patricio Blanco in the eyes of the unhappy home crowd.
Crucially, Tahiti survived their allocated two minutes playing a man short.
Hearii Tavanae hit the post and after the break, so too did Marama Amau as the Tiki Toa tried to turn up the heat on their world champion opponents.
The tides of luck seemed to turn in Tahiti’s favour as captain Naea Bennett used his head to nudge a long ball from goalkeeper Jonathan Torohia into the back of the net.
With the lead in their possession for the first time and five minutes still remaining in the match the onus on Tahiti was to keep the Russians from scoring.
A driven Russia had the opposite goal and threw everything they had in their possession at the Tahitians as they sought an equaliser which would keep them in contention.
The pressure paid off when Alexey Makarov created something from nothing to draw his side level with three-and-a-half minutes remaining, and broke Tahiti hearts with a second shortly after.
Cool, calm and collected, the Russians then sealed the victory when Shishin volleyed over Torohia’s head from his own half to secure the 5-3 victory and the opportunity to defend their World Cup title in tomorrow’s final.
Tahiti will now play Brazil in the play-off for third place tomorrow, Saturday 27 September at 19h00 (local) after they beat Spain in the second semi-final of the evening.

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