Perhaps it has something to do with his local heritage, given that his father is Italian, but Teva Zaveroni and his Tahiti team are enjoying the warmest of welcomes at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2011.
The player-coach was the picture of happiness at the end of the islanders’ victorious debut at the tournament, staying late into the night to celebrate in front of the enthusiastic spectators, who have already taken the Polynesians to their hearts.
Tears of joy were shed as Zaveroni was joined by his compatriots and the sparse following that has accompanied them on this first global odyssey, wearing crowns of shells and flowers behind their ears.
The sensation is one of immense satisfaction but also disbelief, given that up until ten months ago the Tiki Toa, or “Warrior Men” as they are affectionately known, didn’t even exist, and now here they are living the dream. “We played with our heart, for our people, for our country, who were watching us live on TV,” the coach told FIFA.com.
“We knew that Venezuela have some pacy players so we had to stay sharp, not let ourselves get turned over and we did it, playing like we know how. I dedicate this victory to all those who weren’t able to be with us, to the boys who didn’t make the squad.”
We played with our heart, for our people, for our country, who were watching us live on TV.
Sharpness is clearly a quality the Tahitian tactician has in abundance. When not calling the shots from the sidelines, Zaveroni is leading by example on the sand, as demonstrated by his brilliant brace against La Vinotinto.
"Besides getting on the scoresheet, I’m happy for the win and for the fact that the goals enabled the boys to express their beach soccer,” explained the 35-year-old, pointing to his compatriots’ mental fortitude.
“These past few days I’ve been working on their self-esteem, also because we are a newly-formed team. Therefore I’ve been drilling it into them that they have the qualities to be here playing in a World Cup with the other big sides.”
When asked if their maiden win at the global showpiece is something of a miracle, Zaveroni insisted that the victory was no fluke, almost cringing before answering: "Well, perhaps it is, but I think the secret is that for ten months we have been a family, we’ve lived together, sharing joy and pain, learning from our difficulties.
"Day after day we have become increasingly close, we have become a real team, and I think that was apparent this evening.
“The key is to play without feeling second-best,” continued the Polynesian, “because we have the quality. In these past weeks of preparing for the tournament we’ve been able to compare ourselves with the world’s biggest teams and little by little we started to realise that we weren’t so inferior.”
Focus turns to Russia
There is little time to lap up the atmosphere, however, with a rapid return to action beckoning on Sunday against Russia, who lead Group C along with the islanders. “They are on another level compared to us,” said Zaveroni.
“It will be really tough, also because we aren’t used to playing every two days. So now our job is to regain our energy to give a decent account of ourselves, also bearing in mind that the last match against Nigeria will be the decisive one."
Tahiti’s dream debut at the Ravenna finals has laid down an early marker for 2013, when the next FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup will be held in the Polynesian paradise. “Clearly it’s an important event,” concludes the coach.
“And for us it will be different, the level and the pressure will go up an extra notch because our country will be watching us with great expectation, but we’ll still show the same positive spirit and mentality.”
Until then, the warrior men are making the most of this occasion. “For now we’re enjoying this dream. Just looking at this stadium from the inside, with the stands full of fans, it’s a great feeling.”