As the only full-time professional in the squad Marama Vahirua is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown for the Pacific Islanders. His success and longevity in France, combined with his status as Tahiti’s only OFC Player of the Year winner, makes Vahirua a favoured footballing son in French Polynesia.
Quirkily, he has yet to make his debut for the national team despite, at 33, being a few months shy of the oldest outfield on the Tahiti roster for Brazil 2013. A long and successful club career in France has prevented the Papeete-born Vahirua from representing the Toa Aito, meaning he is set to have the unusual distinction of debuting on the world stage at the Festival of Champions.
Still boasting his trademark lithe and fleet-of-foot high-energy style, the striker will provide valuable guile and experience in the Tahiti side.
After starting out as a teenager with AS Pirae he left his homeland at 18, inspired no doubt by older cousin Pascal who played for France at UEFA EURO 1992, to link with the Nantes youth academy. He quickly progressed to the senior team where he was a Ligue 1 winner by the age of 21. After six successful years with Les Canaris, Vahirua enjoyed three productive years at both Nice and Lorient. Spells at Monaco and Nancy followed, before departing France for Greece where he turned out for Panthrakikos in the recently completed season.
Vahirua was close to making his Tahiti debut in last year’s 2012 OFC Nations Cup, and then again in last year’s third stage of FIFA World Cup qualifying, only for club commitments to prevail on both occasions.
Former national team star and current Tahiti Beach Soccer captain Naea Bennett is another cousin for what is a famous sporting family in French Polynesia.