Marama Vahirua will make his debut tonight at 33. Eugenio Savio/AP/Press Association Images
confed cup

Tahiti: A true underdog story

The tiny South Pacific islanders paddle into uncharted waters when they take on Nigeria at the Confederations Cup in Brazil tonight.

TAHITI WILL REPRESENT ‘the little guy’ tonight when they make their Confederations Cup debut against African champions Nigeria in Belo Horizonte.

With a population of just 270,000, most would struggle to point the tiny South Pacific island out on a map. Ranked 138th in the FIFA world rankings, their path to the tournament can be considered a minor miracle.

Since heavyweights Australia joined the Asian qualifiers in the search of more competitive opposition in 2006, New Zealand have been the team to beat in Oceania. However, last year the OFC Nations Cup witnessed a major upset when the Kiwis were eliminated by New Caledonia at the semi-final stage.

That left the door open for a team other than the big two to lift the trophy for the first time in its 40-year history. Having saw off the Solomon Islands in the last four, Tahiti entered the record books by recording a 1-0 victory in the final.

That earned the minnows a spot at the World Cup dress rehearsal alongside the champions of the other confederations. As well as their meeting with the Super Eagles this evening, fixtures with Spain and Uruguay await.

It is a remarkable achievement for a side made up entirely of amateurs who work as teachers, delivery men and accountants in between representing their Tahiti. They also possess a set of three brothers in their ranks – Lorenzo, Alvin and Jonathan Tehau. Cousin Teaonui Tehau is a squad member too.

Tahiti were unable to qualify for next year’s World Cup and won’t be expected to earn a single point in Brazil and manager Eddy Etaeta, a former international with no professional experience, is understandably proud of his players for just getting his far.

“Today, a tiny little country in the middle of the Pacific with a population of 270,000 people will write its name in football history,” he told

We are proud to represent amateur football. We often talk of stars – (Andres) Iniesta and Xavi of Spain, (Luis) Suarez of Uruguay, (Ikechukwu) Uche or (Victor) Moses of Nigeria — but today, the star is Tahiti.”

It is a classic ‘David vs Goliath’ tale but they have received a huge pre-tournament boost in the arrival of experienced striker Marama Vahirua. A former France U21, the 33-year-old has spent his entire career in France with the likes of Nantes, Monaco and current club Nancy (although he is on loan in Greece) but has never played for Tahiti as he concentrated on his club career.

Vahirua has been called up to the squad by Etaeta and is set to make his debut against Nigeria.

“Playing a competition like this, particularly at the end of my career, is simply unimaginable,” he said on ”I never even dared to dream about this day. I’m living a waking dream.”

He has set his sights on a goal to mark his arrival and if he does find the back of the net, expect him to celebrate by imitating paddling a boat – a tribute to his homeland.

Here’s a glimpse of what he is capable of:

YouTube credit: TheNico26740

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