Tahiti’s beach soccer team, the Tiki Toa, are set to kick-off their fifth consecutive appearance at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup tomorrow against Italy, and the pressure is on.
The Tiki Toa are two-time runners-up at the prestigious event and are hoping this year’s tournament will be the one where they finally get their hands on the silverware.
Key players during those previous campaigns Naea Bennett and Teva Zaveroni are wearing different hats this time around, taking on the roles of coach, and assistant coach respectively.
“It’s a first for Naea and I to be on the bench as coach and assistant coach,” Zaveroni explained.
“It’s definitely not simple. We were part of the Tiki Toa as players and now we’ve moved to the other side of the fence. But the objective remains the same, to prepare the team to be as competitive as possible.”
The side upped their preparations at the end of October with two victories over the USA on home sand before jetting off to Paraguay where friendlies against Nigeria, Oman, UAE and Paraguay awaited.
The team didn’t fare quite so well during those games but Bennett said the focus has been more on getting physically ready for the tournament.
“We finished the week with the match against Nigeria, which didn’t go so well with some positive aspects but also some negative ones so we really need to work on those before the match against Italy.
“Losing a match is never easy to accept but the boys have been working really hard on their fitness, recovering well and we’ll be ready for the match come Thursday.”
One player who will be key to the side’s campaign will be 2015 Golden Ball winner Heimanu Taiarui, who said the team has been working hard to ensure they’re in peak form physically as well as hitting the mark in terms of technique and tactics.
“It’s true that Italy wasn’t at the last world cup, but they remain a strong opponent because they play their championship all year round,” the France-based Taiarui explained.
“Even if they weren’t at the World Cup, they participate in the European championship. They also took part in quite a few tournaments like the World Beach Games. They’re incredibly strong and the players know each other well because they haven’t changed much.”
While stating the ultimate goal is evidently the trophy and the title of world champions which comes along with it, Taiarui said the team approach is to go step by step.
“We have to start by thinking about getting out of the group phase. We’ve seen a few friendly matches featuring Uruguay and Mexico. They’re not bad, they’ve very physical, they play a lot on the ground.
“They won’t be easy games. They more used to the temperature here in Paraguay and that’s an advantage. But if we don’t make any mistakes, everything will go well.”
Tahiti kick off their campaign tomorrow, Thursday 21 November, at 16h15 (local) against Italy in what is also the opening match of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Paraguay 2019™.
They play Mexico on Saturday before closing out the group stage against Uruguay on Monday.