After being nominated in late December to replace Auckland City FC at next month’s FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2021™, AS Pirae coach Naea Bennett said his side are focusing on excitement, not excuses, ahead of taking the field in Abu Dhabi.  

A revision to New Zealand’s border controls in light of the COVID-19 variant Omicron meant Auckland City FC withdrew from the competition in late December, with the Oceania Football Confederation Executive Committee, with FIFA approval, nominating AS Pirae as the replacement team from OFC.

That left the Tahitian side with just over a month to prepare for their tournament-opening clash against UAE Pro League champions Al Jazira on February 4 (NZT), but Bennett said that doesn’t mean they won’t be ready to perform. 

“I told my team I don’t like to travel to this kind of competition just to do it. If we go, we go to do our best to win the first game,” Bennett said.  

“It is a great honour for us to have been selected by OFC to represent Oceania. It is a big tournament for us and we are really happy to have this opportunity.  

“It hasn’t been hard (to motivate) everyone. Our players play every season to have the opportunity to go to this tournament.”  

Bennett and his men will make history when they take the field against Al Jazira, becoming the first Tahitian team ever to play at a FIFA Club World Cup.  

One thing leaning in Pirae’s favour is that their domestic competition, Ligue 1 VINI, is currently running, meaning players are fit and match ready. 

“It’s good that we have been playing in our local competition. So far I am happy with our form and we haven’t had to change a lot of things,” Bennett said.  

“I have received some video of Al Jazira playing and I have lots of information about this team, so we are analysing video of them and we have everything we need to be ready. 

“They are a very good team; you can see that they play at a professional level.” 

Pirae departed Tahiti this week to continue their preparations in the UAE.  

Main photo: AS Pirae celebrate. Credit: Christophe Fotozz – Photographe