Historic is the word that best describes Tahiti's performance in the recent Oceania U-20 Championship, which doubled up as the qualifying competition for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009. In winning the four-team tournament, which was held on home soil, the Tahitians became the first island nation in Oceania to qualify for a FIFA tournament other than the Futsal and Beach Soccer World Cups.
Coached by ex-France international Lionel Charbonnier, the Pacific islanders pulled off a notable coup in beating firm favourites New Zealand along the way, an achievement that should give them plenty of heart when they take on the world's best in Egypt later this year.
As well as the hosts and the Kiwis, the competition also featured Fiji and New Caledonia, who began the tournament by holding the Tahitians to a disappointing 0-0 draw. In their second game against the New Zealanders, Charbonnier's side found themselves a goal down only for their opponents to be reduced to ten men just before the interval. The Tahiti Nui made the most of their one-man advantage, with Garry Rochette rifling home from 25 yards to level the scores and Ariihau Teriitau scoring the winner a minute from time.
Heading into the final round of games Tahiti and New Caledonia were locked together on four points, although the Caledonians stood top thanks to their superior goal difference. Tahiti did what they had to do by beating the Fijians 2-0, leaving them to wait on the result of the match between New Caledonia and New Zealand. When news of their 2-2 draw came through, the Tahitians could begin to celebrate - they had won the tournament and with it a place in Egypt.
Although he has but one France cap to his name, the former goalkeeper was a non-playing member of the Bleus squad that won the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™. An Auxerre youth product, Charbonnier spent most of his career with the French club, helping them to the league and cup double in 1996.
After finishing his playing career with spells at Glasgow Rangers and then Lausanne, the former understudy to Fabien Barthez began a career in coaching, taking up posts at French amateur clubs Stade Poitevin and Sens. Appointed National Technical Director of the Tahitian FA in 2007, Charbonnier wasted little time in improving the country's standing by steering the U-20 side to Egypt 2009.
Tahiti will rank among the outsiders in Egypt, where they will need to be strong at the back and get the most out of Teheipuarii Hauata if they are to prosper. The Tahitian shot-stopper was beaten just once in the qualifying competition and commanded his defence with aplomb. The understanding between the Tehau brothers will also be critical. The siblings worked wonders in the four-team tournament, with Lorenzo revealing his set-piece skills and Alvin showing his eye for goal by stealing in on the end of them.
First appearance in a FIFA U-20 World Cup finals
Winners of the OFC U-20 Championship Tahiti 2008
What they said...
"To win this championship is incredible not just for us but for all the people of Tahiti. They know they can now have faith in the quality of their players." Tahiti coach Lionel Charbonnier
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