Few people would have bet against Solomon Islands failing to qualify for Ravenna 2011. The winners of the Oceania title four times in a row between 2006 and 2009, the Bilikiki Boys looked to be well on course for yet another OFC crown in the continental qualifying competition, held in Tahiti in February.
Having swept to a 9-4 win over Fiji, Solomon Islands then downed the hosts 4-1 to move into the final, where they would once again take on Tahiti. The Tiki Toa, who will be staging the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, had other ideas however, upsetting the regional powerhouses with a 4-3 victory to check into the world finals for the first time ever.
“We knew there was an awful lot riding on that game and that we weren’t the favourites, but we had one very clear objective: to reach the 2011 World Cup,” said Tahiti’s player-coach Teva Zaveroni in conversation with FIFA.com, recalling his side’s shock win over the Bilikiki Boys in Papeete.
“We didn’t want to host the World Cup without appearing in one first,” added Zaveroni, speaking after a valuable warm-up match against Mexico, the runners-up at Rio de Janeiro 2007. “I’m sure that the fact we’re here now, taking on the best, will make a tremendous difference when it comes to performing at home in two years’ time.”
“It’s important for us to find out exactly how good we are,” continued the coach, who also doubles up as one of the squad’s pivots. “We don’t have any international experience and perhaps we’re not quite at the same level as most sides. That said, we are a closely knit team, we run a lot and we stick to the same gameplan for the whole match.”
One thing that could well work in the favour of the inexperienced Tahitians in Italy is their status as an unknown quantity.
“I don’t know if that’s going to be positive or negative for us in the long run, but we’ve surprised people once and who’s to say we can’t do it again here?” said Zaveroni, who sees Ravenna 2011 as an opportunity for the Tiki Toa to announce themselves to the world before welcoming the global beach soccer community in 2013. “Now that we’ve finally qualified for the finals and we’ll be taking part again two years from now, we know that we’ve absolutely nothing to lose.”