With just a few hours remaining before Tahiti make their grand entrance at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013, their fans may be forgiven for feeling that they have a mountain to climb.
In their first-ever match in this tournament, the team from the diminutive Polynesian island must lock horns with Nigeria, giants of the African game, on Sunday in Belo Horizonte. As they meet this challenge head-on, the Toa Aito will at least be able to count on someone accustomed to attaining summits, Teheivarii Ludivion, who describes his full-time job as ‘climber’.
While mountaineering may not be the first thing that springs to mind in connection with Tahiti, the player in question clarifies what his job entails to FIFA.com: “The kind of climbing I’m involved in is specialist construction work carried out at heights,” he explained, unable to hide the pride in his voice.
Bridge building, pylon installation and roof repair all constitute daily duties for the Tahitian. “In my life, football is just a leisure pursuit. It will always take second place to my work, which is more important.”
That said, as the Polynesians’ debut in a major senior tournament draws ever closer, the AS Tefana centre-back, who admits to still harbouring dreams of a professional career, cannot hide his delight.
“The Confederations Cup is a huge event; it’s obviously a great honour to take part in it. It’s even bigger than four years ago. This time, we’re playing against the best, and there’s no age limit,” he said, referring to his participation in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2009 with Tahiti.
Ludivion was one of five players in Eddy Etaeta’s squad to break new ground by competing at the prestigious youth event in Egypt. Heimano Bourebare, Steevey Chong Hue, Alvin Tehau and Lorenzo Tehau accompanied him on the north African adventure, which concluded with a group-stage defeat to Nigeria, as fate would have it.
“It’s fantastic to be playing the Nigerians in our opening game. It gives us a chance for revenge. And we’ll be able to see if we’ve made any progress,” said the defender.
“I remember a particularly powerful and very lively team. They impressed me at that level. I’d like to think we can do better than we did four years ago, ” he continued, hopeful there will be no repeat of the 5-0 loss of 2009, which had the dubious distinction of being Tahiti’s best result in Egypt.
“The objective and the pre-match advice we’ve been given are the same: defend. That’s the key word. We’ll see as the match develops if we have a chance of getting anything from it,” said the rangy centre-half.
“I wasn’t the same footballer after the U-20 World Cup. A competition like that changes you. Undoubtedly, the experience we gained over there helped us to get to where we are today. And perhaps it also enables us to face what’s coming with more confidence.”
Sights set on Russia 2018
The challenges facing Tahiti Nui, a local nickname meaning ‘big Tahiti’, do not come any tougher. After Nigeria, they are scheduled to play Spain, the European and world champions, followed by Uruguay, Copa America winners.
“Spain were also in our group four years ago. It’s excellent that we’re crossing paths again,” stated Ludivion. “Venezuela are the only ones missing, but Uruguay are a fine replacement,” added the construction worker, showing no fear of the imposing obstacles ahead.
A commanding, robust presence in the heart of defence, he has developed into a crucial player for Tahiti over the past three years. National coach Etaeta has even handed him the captain’s armband on occasion, like in their 2-1 win over Chilean second division side Deportes Magallanes at the beginning of June, the only victory the team has recorded in their warm-up matches for Brazil 2013.
In addition, Ludivion featured in eight of Tahiti’s 11 recent qualifying matches for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, and was instrumental in their historic triumph against New Caledonia in the final of the 2012 OFC Nations Cup, a result that qualified the islanders for this FIFA Confederations Cup.
If tournaments like Egypt 2009 and Brazil 2013 represent peaks in world football, Ludivion is eager to conquer others. “We’ll see what kind of targets our FA ends up setting. But obviously, the 2018 World Cup and the next Confederations Cup will form part of our goals,” he said.
In the meantime, a top-level duel with Nigeria awaits the climber and his team-mates in Belo Horizonte. If the Tahitians were to somehow achieve a positive result against the Super Eagles, it would doubtless represent the crowning moment of their careers.