Pacific beach soccer powerhouse Tahiti can’t contain their excitement leading up to the OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup 2019 on home soil.
Although the players and coaching staff are not taking anything for granted, home expectations in the beach soccer mad nation will be high for Tiki Toa looking to book their place in their fifth consecutive FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup hosted by Paraguay later this year.
The Tahitians have a rich and proud pedigree in the sport built on their past achievements on the world stage.
Following their World Cup debut in 2011 in Italy, Tahiti had the honour of hosting the 2013 edition of the tournament and they made the entire region proud by finishing fourth in the world.
Things got even better for Tiki Toa with two runners-up performances in Brazil and The Bahamas in 2015 and 2017.
On the eve of their latest World Cup campaign that begins with the OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup in Papeete on 17 June, the players are preparing under the weight of local expectations and will face four of their Pacific rivals including New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.
Coach Naea Bennett says the team and the entire nation is buzzing with excitement.
“We are excited and are very happy to host this tournament.
“The people of Tahiti keep asking when can they watch us playing, so to have an international beach soccer tournament here in Papeete after these years is great for them and great for us too,” he said.
Despite Tiki Toa are widely regarded as tournament favourites, Bennett has warned his players against complacency especially since the Tahitians haven’t played or seen any of their Oceania rivals in action since 2013.
“I told my players that it’s a difficult situation for us because when you play in Europe you have a good idea how Spain play, or Russia play or Switzerland but now I don’t have any idea how well these teams are prepared, so we have to be focused on our own preparations and we must be 100 per cent ready in the physical side as well as in the technical and tactical departments,” said the coach.
Tahiti captain Raimana Li Fung Kuee echoed his coach’s sentiments by saying his team must be well equipped to face any unexpected challenge ahead.
“There are some very good teams here, the likes of Solomon Islands will be tough but also all the other teams. There are no clear favourites, but we are ready for the games and all our players are keen to showcase our skills and power on the sand to have a great tournament for the people of Tahiti,” the skipper said.
Tiki Toa will be backed by a passionate local crowd at Parc Aorai Tini Hau.
Bennett says his team is happy with the choice of the tournament’s new venue for international beach soccer in Papeete.
“Yes we tested the field and the sand in Tahiti is the same sand everywhere, so the conditions are no diferent, but we are happy to play in Aorai Tini Hau because it’s a nice park, central and near our fans, so it’s great option for the tournament,” explained the coach.