Tiny Tahiti Makes a Huge Splash in Brazil
"TAH-HEE-TEE! TAH-HEE-TEE!" More than 20,000 soccer-mad Brazilians roared for the tiny South Pacific island nation as it took on mighty Nigeria in a Confederations Cup match yesterday. The Tahiti national team usually draws in the dozens for its games, so the squad was undestandbly a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring. But also quite happpy.
"It's not easy for us," Tahiti defender Nicolas Vallar said after the game. "We needed to be supported by all the world and all the supporters in the stadium.
"It's very, very exciting to hear `Tahiti, Tahiti'. It's not usual because in Tahiti we usually play with 100 people and 20,000 today -- that's amazing."
Powerful Nigeria, the African champion and four-time World Cup particpant, prevailed 6-1 in the 2014 World Cup (also to be played in Brazil) warm-up event, "but in the Mineirao Stadium, Tahiti not only avoided humiliation by scoring that single goal but provided moments of menace to trouble the African champions," observes ESPN.
"They came out to fight like lions and it was a little bit difficult to up our game when you know you are playing against them," Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said.
Watch: GOOOOOOOOOOOL! Tahiti's Jonathan Tehau heads home a score.
For Tahiti, the island paradise whose Indigenous Peoples have endured European colonialist intervention since the early 1600s when the Spanish Crown arrived, even being at the elite eight-team Confedrations Cup tournament is an honor for a nation with only one professional soccer player, striker Marama Vahirua, who currently plays for the Greek club Panthrakikos. The Pacific Islanders still have to play Spain, the world's best team, and Uruguay, which made it to the final four of the 2010 World Cup, in the tournament, but the footballers are happy for the opportunity on the world stage.
"Just our presence here is a victory and it was fantastic to be adopted by the Brazilian public," said Vahirua.
Read more and enjoy a longer highlights video from the match by clicking here.