Some actors are forever typecast by their most high profile role regardless of their body of work. The same occasionally happens in football. Though relatively early in his football journey, you get the sense that whatever happens in Steevy Chong Hue’s career he will always be primarily associated with the events of 10 June 2012.
It is a date that marks Tahiti’s greatest footballing achievement. In the somewhat unlikely setting of Honiara’s Lawson Tama stadium, Chong Hue played the decisive role as Tahiti edged out Francophone rivals New Caledonia to reach unthinkable heights and claim a maiden OFC Nations Cup crown. Ten minutes into the final, the largely unheralded Chong Hue deftly pulled down a Lorenzo Tehau cross at the back post with his knee, before firing the ball inside the near upright all in one sharp movement.
A stout defensive display, combined with Chong Hue’s moment of brilliance in front of goal, saw Tahiti crowned continental kings breaking Australia and New Zealand’s four-decade hold on the trophy. It also, of course, allowed Tahiti passage to the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013, and a rare chance to rub shoulders with the world’s elite at next month’s Festival of Champions.
To many global viewers the players of Tahiti hail from one of the world’s more remote football nations. Yet Chong Hue is considered to originate from an isolated location even by Tahitian standards. The quietly spoken Chong Hue is the only French Polynesia-born player on the Toa Aito roster to be born and bred away from the nation’s main land mass.
The 23-year-old is a native of Raiatea, an island of just 12,000 inhabitants located 200 kilometres away from the capital Papeete. Chong Hue’s home island shares a sun-kissed lagoon with Bora Bora; a group of islands better known for celebrity spotting and five-star retreats than it is for football. Little surprise then that Chong Hue, who possesses Chinese heritage from several generations back, made the move to the capital for football when he was 17.
A brief stint in the lower leagues of Belgium aside, Chong Hue’s major international experience until last year was at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 when he was a key part of another historic moment for Tahitian football. Chong Hue competed in all three matches at Egypt 2009 - including outings against Brazil 2013 opponents Spain and Nigeria - as Tahiti became the first Oceania island nation to qualify for a FIFA tournament, other than the Futsal and Beach Soccer World Cups.
Tahiti’s 2010 FIFA World Cup™ push was a disastrous and short-lived campaign that ended after just four matches in August 2007, before most nations around the world had even taken the field. Hence ambitions were modest for Tahiti ahead of last year’s OFC Nations Cup, which doubled as the second stage of Oceania 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying. However, Eddy Etaeta’s charges defied all comers, not to mention oppressive heat and humidity, to win five straight matches and reach a new zenith.
“I will remember this goal for a long time,” Chong Hue told FIFA.com of that famous winner. “The tournament for me was exceptional, and this goal in particular was the culmination of all my football to date. That goal was also for the country who we represented, and all our families.”
Appropriately enough Chong Hue plies his trade for AS Dragon, a club initially set up by Tahiti’s Chinese diaspora. His arrival at Dragon a couple of years back coincided with the club’s rise on the local scene, and the past two years has seen them win their maiden domestic titles.
Slimly built and able to operate in the middle of the forward line or down the flanks, Chong Hue boasts a defence-splitting turn of speed. His reserved nature, however, means it is left to Etaeta to describe Chong Hue's attributes as “hard-working, fast and with a nose for goal”.
Now Tahiti must face up to their greatest challenge. Their Brazil 2014 schedule has them opening up against African conquerors Nigeria on 17 June, before tackling world champions Spain three days later and rounding out their group campaign against South American kings Uruguay.
“For an amateur player it is a dream to face the best players in the world,” said Chong Hue, who names Spain as his favourite team in world football. “However for it not to become a nightmare we have to keep working really hard so we are ready for the first game. We have had to change mentally from what we know because it is not the same level of football that we are used to.”