Up till the 54th minute of this Group B encounter, the Tahitians had never managed to find the back of the net in the final stages of a FIFA competition. Until, that is, Tehau leapt to get his head on the end of a deep corner to the back post.
“It’s a first for our country. I’m very happy to have scored and to have made my mark on the history of Tahitian football, alongside my team-mates,” the heroic midfield man told FIFA.com after the match.
“My mind went blank when I scored; all I could think of was celebrating it properly with my friends,” he continued, smiling despite having suffered a 6-1 defeat and having put the ball in his own net later in the game. “Let’s forget that one, shall we?” he joked.
The long and entertaining goal celebration that followed could certainly not be described as ‘off-the-cuff’. With one knee on the ground, and two hands pretending to clutch an oar, the Polynesians all proceeded to mime a paddling canoeist.
This routine is the same as the one employed by Marama Vahirua, the squad’s only professional player, who has repeated the action 91 times in 14 seasons in the French top flight, in homage to his homeland, where traditional dugout canoes are part of the landscape.
“I don’t have a trademark on the celebration; it belongs to the entire team, and to my country,” explained Vahirua, who set up Tehau for the goal.
“It made sense for everyone to do it together and for me to share it with my friends. And they really liked it. They saw what it was like to score in front of a big crowd and millions of television viewers. It was simply a beautiful moment. It’s as if I scored tonight; that’s how much pleasure it gives me. And that was why I thought I’d go for it with the celebration,” he added.
This statement appears to sum up the mentality of this group of close friends, who together form a tight-knit unit. United in defeat, they shared in this small moment of glory equally.
“Jonathan scored, but we all scored in a way. Isn’t that what team sport is all about?” pointed out Mikael Roche, Tahiti’s substitute goalkeeper. “But above all, what we would like to remember, and what we want the world to remember, is our values, our fighting spirit and the way we played as a team. We never gave up and we played with our hearts.”
No observers could deny that the Tao Aito demonstrated plenty of courage. After quickly falling behind, they refused to bow their heads, and instead fought for every ball. They continued to try to attack, and finally got a just reward after the Super Eagles had stretched their lead to 3-0.
“We’ll remember the goal, of course, but that’s not all. We showed a side of our game that nobody expected. We fought hard, and we can be proud of ourselves. We showed that we could compete – perhaps not throughout the match, but it was still impressive!” continued Vahirua.
The islanders’ ability to compete will be tested even more intensely in the days to come. After taking on the African champions, the European and world champions now await. The much-anticipated encounter with Spain will take place in the legendary Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on 20 June.
“Jonathan’s goal was unexpected, but it gives us hope. We know that we’re very unlikely to surprise Spain, but scoring a goal against Nigeria has put the wind in our sails,” stated Tahiti captain Nicolas Vallar. “And if we’d been a bit more clinical, we might even have grabbed a second tonight. Jonathan could have had a brace.”
But the lively midfielder is likely to feel that he has already done enough, by contributing to one of the most remarkable moments in Tahiti’s footballing history.