Having done what they stated and reached their second consecutive FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup final, Tahiti now face the might of Brazil if they want to realise their dream of becoming world champions.
But taking down a side that is considered to be the founding nation of the sand-based sport will be no easy task. And the Tiki Toa know that having already been beaten by their foes during the group stage of this year’s competition.
Brazil went on to top Group D to set up a showdown with defending champions Portugal where they claimed a narrow 4-3 victory. Next up was Italy in the semi-finals and although they were taken to task by the European nation, it finished 8-4 in Brazil’s favour to send them through to their first World Cup final since 2011.
It was a tougher path to the final for the Tiki Toa who had to wait on Japan’s result against Brazil in the final Group D match where a 9-3 in the South American side’s favour helped the Tahitians secure the group’s runner-up slot.
A 6-4 win over Paraguay meant they were into the semi-final where they faced Asian side Iran who has been quietly building their reputation as a strong beach soccer nation.
In what proved one of the lowest scoring matches at the World Cup, Iran took the lead in the second period before a goal from Patrick Tepa late in the third saw them force extra time.
With no goals from either side forthcoming, it was down to a penalty shootout that couldn’t have been more nail-biting if it had tried.
Tahiti triumphed 3-2 to set-up a second showdown with Brazil in this year’s edition.
Captain Naea Bennett said the semi-final was a true test of his side’s abilities, but to triumph was testament to their desire to take out the top prize.
“We knew it would be an incredibly difficult match. They scored from an error, a corner. But we never gave up,” Bennett said.
“We kept working hard and we managed to equalise and win in the penalty shootout. It’s a match won, and deserved. We didn’t steal the victory.”
One player who will is particularly elated by the semi-final victory is Portugal 2015 Golden Ball winner Heimanu Taiarui who had to sit out the match against Iran after he picked up yellow cards in consecutive matches.
During his side’s marathon penalty shoot-out, he could be seen in the stands behind the goal experiencing a full range of emotions as his side eventually navigated their way to the final as Raimoana Bennett scored the winning spot-kick.
Taiarui pointed towards the heavens as soon as he realised he would be taking part in the final.
The Tiki Toa will play Brazil in the 2017 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup final on Sunday 7 May at 16:30 local (10.30am TAHT).
Fans in Tahiti can head to To’ata Stadium to watch the match with gates opening at 9am, and the action set to start at 10.20am.