Tahiti's reputation for underachievement has proved
frustrating for their fans. After being touted as strong contenders
in the OFC U-17 and U-20 Championships, the French Polynesians
flattered to deceive finishing well outside the qualification
By contrast, the national team has had a reasonable year featuring two 0-0 draws against New Zealand and a respectable performance in the OFC Champions League (O-League) by club champions AS Temanava. The draw for the XIII South Pacific Games has thrown up a tricky assignment, with Tahiti facing a powerful Fiji and French-speaking rivals New Caledonia. Cook Islands and Tuvalu round off the group in which Tahiti have a reputation to live up too.
Like New Caledonia, Tahiti has dominated the men's football tournament at the South Pacific Games, winning five goal medals in the competition stretching back to 1966. With Fiji and Solomon Islands heavily favoured to progress, Tahiti will look to inspirational skipper Naea Bennett if they wish to finish among the medallists - and claim a berth at phase two of FIFA World Cup qualifying.
Tahiti's last attempt at qualification for the FIFA World Cup began with a paltry four points from five matches, the Tahitians only just edging out Vanuatu to avoid propping up the table. A 0-0 draw with Fiji was a good start, but a 9-0 loss to Australia was no good for the minnows' confidence.
Tahiti then fell to the Solomons and New Zealand, 4-0 and 10-0 respectively, before they managed to edge out Vanuatu 2-1 in their final game for a bit of pride at the end of a long and bumpy road.
Despite the result, Tahiti, also known as French Polynesia, have emerged as one of the most improved island-based teams in Oceania since gaining admission to FIFA in 1990. After a period of rapid progress, Tahiti recorded their greatest triumph to date at the 2002 OFC Nations Cup, consigning Fiji to fourth place and finishing an eye-opening third behind local superpowers Australia and New Zealand.
Finishing third at the 2002 OFC Nations Cup was significant for the balance of power in the region as Tahiti have surged past their rivals Fiji on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Moreover, the islanders were just two minutes away from condemning mighty Australia to the third-place play-off.
Indeed, Tahiti were leading their semi-final through Teva Zaveroni until 120 seconds from the end, but the Aussies levelled to take the game into extra time, where the Socceroos dug deep and grabbed a match-winning Golden Goal.
With a firm foundation to build on, Tahiti can be confident of getting right back in the saddle before the preliminaries for South African 2010.