Three months on from leading the Tahiti men’s national team to a brave 1-0 semi-final defeat at the hands of eventual winners New Zealand at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Oceania Qualifiers, Sam Garcia is keen to fly the flag for the country once again with his club side AS Vénus.
Vénus face AS Pirae on June 14 (Tahiti time) in a single leg playoff which will decide who represents Tahiti in the OFC Champions League 2022 finals stage.
It follows both clubs playing abroad in recent times, when Vénus qualified for the seventh round of the 2021-22 Coupe de France (French Cup) and Pirae took the field at the 2021 edition of the FIFA Club World Cup.
Garcia said success at Champions League level is an important next step for Tahiti as a Member Association and is grateful for the opportunity to do it with Vénus.
“Every federation wishes to have a champion club in Oceania; it’s recognition of the work being carried out in the country,” Garcia said.
“Victory in the Champions League gives fuel to the development of football in a country.
“Over the last three seasons Vénus and Pirae have been the two best teams in Tahiti, while this year Dragon and Tefana are very strong too.”
Prior to the OCL being cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vénus had qualified for the quarter-final stage having finished second behind Auckland City FC in their group.
Having maintained the core of his squad from that campaign, Garcia said he sees no reason why they can’t be more competitive this time around if they can get past Pirae in the playoff.
“The players have matured since those matches two years ago, so it’s time to get a result in the next edition,” Garcia said.
“We have to adapt to the new (must-win playoff) format, especially given the last two years that we have lived through.”
Facing Pirae in a one-off tie will not be a foreign concept to Garcia and his team. The two clubs met in the Coupe de Polynésie quarter-finals this weekend. But despite Vénus winning that fixture 3-1, Garcia will not be going into the National Playoff overconfident.
“We have to stay focused on what we have been doing well for the past few seasons,” Garcia said.
“We have to be very focused on our game.”
The winner of the playoff in Tahiti will join New Zealand’s Auckland City FC, Cook Islands’ Nikao Sokattak FC and New Caledonia’s Hienghène Sport as teams confirmed so far for the finals stage.