Heimanu Taiarui earned the adidas Golden Ball award at the 2015 Beach Soccer World Cup
The Tahitian fancies his team’s chances at Russia 2021
Taiarui: “That award changed my life”
This year marks the ten-year anniversary of the Tahitian national beach soccer team’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup™ debut – and the establishment of their now-familiar nickname, the Tiki Toa – at Ravenna 2011. Featuring in that squad were Jonathan Torohia, Tearii Labaste and Franck Revel, who, a decade down the line, will be present at the tournament once again in August, at Russia 2021, and will have their sights firmly set on lifting the prestigious trophy for the first time.
“The term ‘Tiki Toa’ literally means ‘warrior’,” Heimanu Taiarui, another member of that historic side, told FIFA.com. “There’s no doubt that it suits us, when you look at our characteristics. When we started out, we battled with the weapons we had available to us: our physique, our desire, our mindset. Exactly what you need to be a warrior. And then, we gradually gained experience and improved our skills and tactics.”
He added: “But aside from being warriors, we’re brothers above all, and that’s what makes us truly unique. We’ve been spending time together, training together and fighting alongside each other for ten years now. We know each other like the backs of our hands. We get on brilliantly, both on and off the sand – that’s another reason we’re so strong!”
Within a decade punctuated by five Beach Soccer World Cups, including one they hosted themselves (in 2013), Tahiti have gone from rank outsiders to one of the planet’s most respected and competitive teams. On two occasions, at Portugal 2015 and Bahamas 2017, they fell at the final hurdle, respectively losing in the final to the host nation (5-3) and to Brazil (6-0). Taiarui’s feeling of disappointment six years ago was tempered slightly by his capture of the adidas Golden Ball, a deserved reward for some excellent performances in Espinho.
"That award changed my life,” said Taiarui. “It brought me a lot of joy, of course, but it also gave rise to high expectations and significant pressure. I owe it to myself to always live up to it and prove that I didn’t just get it by mistake. And I must admit that it’s a bit of a burden at times.”
Another knock-on effect of the accolade for the talented Tahitian was an increase in international travel. Between 2015 and 2021, he exported his skills to Portugal, Germany, Italy, Spain, Estonia, Japan and the Bahamas. The only Tahitian player plying his trade abroad, he currently stars for Switzerland’s Team BSC Lions Riviera.
As for his Golden Ball award, it remained safe and sound back in Tahiti during this period. “It’s a pretty heavy item to be carrying around in your luggage,” he said, laughing. “I left it at my parents’ house, where I grew up, with all my other trophies. There’s still a little spot available for a World Cup!”
And that may prove to be good timing, as the latest edition of the Beach Soccer World Cup begins on 19 August, in Moscow. “This will be my fifth appearance at the World Cup, and there’s always the same excitement, and the same goal: lifting the trophy,” stated the defender, who will turn 35 during the competition (on 24 August). “After we were knocked out in the group stage of the last World Cup, there’ll be less of a focus on us, I suspect, and we might fly under the radar. But we’ll be working away in the background, ready to spring a surprise.”
Fans of the Tiki Toa have already had to deal with a substantial surprise, as it was announced that Tahitian coach and beach soccer legend Naea Bennett will not be travelling to Russia with the team. However, his successor is a familiar face to followers of Tahitian football: Teva Zaveroni, a former national-team star and Bennet’s assistant coach until recently, will take the helm in Russia.
“Naea has contributed so much; we really respected him,” said Taiarui. “His departure is a bit of a blow, but we’ll make the best of it. We’ve still got Teva, and that’s a bonus, as he offers us some continuity. He was working behind the scenes, and now he’ll have to take centre-stage. If we all pull together, we’re sure to succeed!”