Tahiti might have already reached rarefied air in their stunning march to the semi-finals at the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, but they have no intentions of letting slip a unique opportunity. Already the first Pacific Islands nation to reach the knockout stage of a FIFA tournament, they are now aiming to match the achievement of former OFC member Australia and reach a World Cup final.
In addition they also happen to be hosting the tournament; the first FIFA event in the Pacific. And the fact that many locals say it is the biggest event to ever happen in French Polynesia simply adds more poignancy to the occasion. To reach the final, however, Tahiti will have to prevail against the hugely experienced world champions Russia.
Matching it with the best
Tahiti’s Swiss coach Angelo Schirinzi is an experienced campaigner in the sand-based discipline and not one, you suspect, who is prone to unrealistic daydreaming.
He is now in his third successive World Cup, and in touching distance of a second final, having also done so with his native country in 2009. A 6-1 quarter-final win over South American champions Argentina is evidence, if any were needed, that Tahiti – a nation of just some 200,000 inhabitants - can match it with the best on the globe.
“Before the tournament, my ambition was passing the group, and now I want to go to the final,” he told FIFA.com minutes after Wednesday’s quarter-final while the Papeete stadium hummed with the post-match afterglow of a extraordinary sporting moment. “I actually always had the dream to go to the final, and it was always in my head and also in the head of my players.”
Pride and passion in rare achievement
Tahiti are in fine form, and their group stage defeat against Spain has been the only blip during a lengthy unbeaten run. Many of the players have spoken during the tournament of being inspired by the raucous home crowd at the To’ata stadium on the shores of Papeete harbour.
And the Tiki Toa players are keen to repay some of that faith. “Tahiti is in semi final and nobody ever thought that it could be possible,” said goalkeeper Jonathan Torohia. “We now enter into the history books of our country and we dedicate this victory to all people of Polynesia.
Schirinzi doesn’t believe the atmosphere will cause his players to lose focus. “Maybe sometimes they are too calm, in typical Tahitian style,” he said. “Sometimes I have to give them more fire. The match [against Argentina] was spectacular. I think it was one of the best team performances I ever seen in Beach Soccer and I have seen a lot of matches.”