The exploits of Tahiti’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup runners-up earned them a warm welcome when they touched down on home soil this week.
The Minister of Youth and Sport Nicole Sanquer was among the crowd who gathered at the airport late on Tuesday night to greet the Tiki Toa, and congratulate them for once again putting French Polynesia under the sporting spotlight.
“We would like to congratulate you for these exploits which saw you make the final,” she said.
“As has become customary for you, you kept us enthralled. We were all at Toa’ta to watch this famous final, and know that we are proud of you for the journey that you have had.
“You are role models for our youth.”
First vice-president of the Fédération Tahitienne de Football Pare Salmon was equally congratulatory of the journey the side took the nation on.
“With all our hearts we were with you, it was a pleasure to see our team going to defend the colours of our small island, that it was Tahiti in the final of the World Cup,” Salmon said.
“We are so proud of your and I hope that the youth coming behind you will follow the footsteps that you have left in the sand.
“Thank you and bravo to all those who accompanied you, and for everytthing that you have done for the country.”
While it was a moment of pride and celebration, the announcement that it would be Tiki Toa captain Naea Bennett’s last FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup campaign as a player left a sombre tone.
“As a player, this will be my last World Cup,” Bennett announced.
The 41-year-old has appeared in 16 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup matches and has scored 14 goals across the four editions he has participated in.
Bennett has made suggestions about taking up a coaching role but believes it is too early to make any commitments.
“In terms of coaching the Tiki Toa, it’s the federation which will decide. For the moment, we want to savour and share this journey with our families, we’ll look at this point a little later.”