Tehau: Tahiti are on a roller coaster ride
Tahiti are through to the quarter-finals of Russia 2021
Teaonui Tehau is a mainstay of the Tiki Toa and the country’s national football team
His brother and three of his cousins are also internationals
It is a case of mission accomplished for Tahiti at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Russia 2021™ following their qualification for the quarter-finals. Two-time runners-up in the competition, in 2015 and 2017, it is perhaps no surprise to see the Tahitians in the last eight, but given the obstacles they have faced along the way, the reality is that it is a minor miracle that they have come this far.
Caught cold by United Arab Emirates in their opening game, which ended in a 4-3 defeat, the Tiki Toa dug deep to get back into contention. After beating Spain 12-8 in a thriller, they then edged out Mozambique 8-7 despite having three fewer players to call upon than their opponents, among them Portugal 2015 adidas Golden Ball winner Heimanu Taiarui.
“Four of my team-mates have been isolating because of Covid and Heimanu had to pull out today because of the injury he picked up against Spain,” Teaonui Tehau told FIFA.com. “We played for them. They’re our brothers. We played for our families too and for our country. We played with our hearts.”
Ups and downs
The Tahitians also played with their heads, not least Tehau, who nodded in his side’s opener. But as his own goal later showed, nothing has come easy for the Tiki Toa at Russia 2021.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” he explained. “I was happy to put us on the right track but that own goal brought me right back down to earth. We had to work really hard for the win today.”
Congratulated by his team-mates for his goal, Tehau received their commiserations when he inadvertently let Mozambique back into the game, proof that this Tahiti team stick together like a family.
“We’ve been living together for two months now, day in day out, and we are like a family,” he said. “We have our highs and lows, but there’s nothing that can break us apart.”
A family affair
In Tehau’s case, the word “family” has a special meaning, given that his cousins Alvin, Lorenzo and Jonathan are all internationals in 11-a-side football, beach soccer or both. He also happens to be the leading all-time scorer of the Toa Aito, as Tahiti’s national football team are known, with 24 goals in 31 appearances.
“I love playing for Tahiti so much that I don’t care if it’s on grass or sand,” he said with a smile.
“Football is a family thing for me,” added Filou (French for “rascal”), a nickname given to him by Alvin on account of his gift for dribbling and dummying when he was young. “It’s in the genes. I don’t know how far it goes back, but my grandfather, father, uncles, cousins, and brothers have all played the game.”
Nine years ago, when FIFA.com interviewed Alvin while Tahiti were in the process of winning the 2012 OFC Nations Cup and qualifying for the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013, he had said that cousin Teaonui, then aged 19, was the most gifted player in the family.
“No, we’re all as good as each other,” said the self-effacing Teaonui. “And there’s more to come because there are other generations of Tehau coming through, starting with my little brother Roonui.”
The youngster certainly seems to be full of promise. The captain of Tahiti’s U-20 team, he was one of the architects of their historic qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019.
For the time being, however, the pride of the family and of the nation is none other than Teaonui.