Photo Credit:OFC Media via Phototek – Heimanu Taiarui in action at Tahiti training

Tahiti coach Teva Zaveroni is downplaying the pressure on his side as they prepare to defend their title at the OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup in Papeete.

The two times FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup finalists face Tonga, Fiji and the Solomon Islands in the French Polynesia capital this week with the tournament winner qualifying for February’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Dubai.

The Tahiti squad contains a number of veterans like Jonathan Torohia, Heimanu Taiarui and Raimana Li Fung Kuee, whilst newcomer Tamatoa Tetauira is being described by some here as the ‘Messi’ of Tahitian Beach Soccer.

The softly spoken 27 year old smiles at the suggestion he is the next great talent to come out of the country.

“I just love what I do, my sport. I do it with passion and humility and that’s what maybe differentiates me, humility is the most important thing,” Tetauira said.

Coach Zaveroni knows in front of a vocal home crowd, expectations are high for the ‘Tiki Toa’, but’s he’s doing his best to keep his talented group of players grounded.

“Of course we have pressure, we have to calm down and get back to our best level because there is a big gap between here and the World Cup. But we take this event very seriously and for us it feels like a World Cup and more,” Zaveroni explained.

The Tahiti squad is stacked with talent with the likes of Tearii Labaste, Patrick Tepa and Teaonui Tehau big names in Tahiti.

Zaveroni admitted finalising his final squad selection of 12 was extremely difficult.

“It’s always hard to make the list, it hurts some, even me, but we have to make choices and choose 12 men. We originally went for 20 guys but we have had to narrow it down to the 12. It is what it is,” he reflected.

The experienced mentor is urging local Tahitians to come out in numbers to support the tournament.

“Thanks so much for all the support. The fans have always had our back and we feel it, it’s great that the tournament is held in our country, it will transcend the whole team and we need it.”

The tournament starts Tuesday local time (Wednesday NZT) with the hosts meeting Tonga and Fiji playing the Solomon Islands. For the Tiki Toa it’s the start of a journey that they hope will end with them contesting a third FIFA World Cup Final having lost to Portugal and Brazil respectively in the final of the 2015 and 2017 editions.