Students, workers, firefighters, police officers, business leaders or the unemployed…and they dream of facing Chelsea: the Tahitians of AS Pirae, the “heart club” of former Nantes player Marama Vahirua, who played (and narrowly lost) the memorable eighth round of the Coupe de France against GSI Pontivy at the end of 2015, as the UFO in the Club World Cup, which begins on Thursday in Abu Dhabi. This amateur team, from a level equivalent to the fifth in France, was set by surprise and delay to represent Oceania in the United Arab Emirates (February 3-12), after the forced withdrawal of New Zealanders from Auckland for health reasons.
Our ambition is to pass the first round. We know the gap between our level and international football. That would be a great feat, but in one match, anything is possible,” hoped Himana Salem, president of the ruling Polynesian double champion. The Tahitians will cancel on Thursday (5:30 pm) against the host country club, Al Jazeera, for a match already cut. “I don’t have No idea about their level but they are professionals. If we get two wins, we can play against Chelsea! ‘, Captain Nia Bennett is carried away. To join the European champions in the semi-finals, it will be necessary to beat Al Jazira and then the Saudis of Al Hilal, the representatives of the AFC.
“If Tuchel discovers me…”
Bennett has experience at the top level, but on the sand: He was captain of Tiki Toa, the Tahitian beach soccer team, and vice world champion in 2015 and 2017. On the grass, the influence of the Tahitian soccer players has been more limited. Oceania does not have the level of other continents, and New Zealand often wins the rare places available during international competitions.
“It will necessarily be very complicated. Technically, football, physical … but I am sure the players will not go to ‘flower in the ear’, as we say at home,” reflects Marama Vahirua, a former Tahiti striker who has worked with FC Lorient. , FC Nantes … and Perai, at the beginning and end of their careers. “I’m not talking about the result clearly, but about wanting to show our values with a warrior spirit. So, I trust the coach, he’s my first cousin,” he slips from the one who celebrated his goals by mimicking the strokes of a rower, one knee to the ground.
Benjamin of the team, Tanitua Haomau (17) left Polynesia for the first time. The defender, in his final year of ‘car maintenance’, was dreaming of seeing the ‘skyscrapers of Dubai’ and hoping to catch Thomas Tuchel’s attention: ‘You never know if the Chelsea boss noticed me.’
Seven cases of COVID-19
Facing the Blues will be a miracle for the Tahitians, seven of them (five starters) have tested positive for COVID-19 before the start… Three of them were forced to withdraw on Thursday, and two more joined the group in Abu Dhabi. As for goalkeeper Teva Dorot and striker Benoit Mathon, they are due to arrive the day before the match after a journey of more than 30 hours. “This trip and all these adventures finally put the players in a good state of mind: they will fight and give 300% to create a good surprise,” she wants to believe the team’s director of communication, Nahima Tamari, wants to believe.
Besides the adventure experienced by the team, he will leave the team and with him at least $ 500,000, the endowment given by FIFA for the last tournament. “It is an economic opportunity that will allow us to create a structure for our club and we are happy to share it with 16 other clubs (from Oceania), including a second club from Tahiti,” said President Salem. Tahitian football will regain some light, as happened in 2013, when its selection succeeded in qualifying for the Confederations Cup in Brazil. Despite three heavy defeats, Petit Bouquet, who sold trays of chicken to fund his trip, became popular with the public.
However, it was a dream that did not have a great future, according to Vahirua. “Our football has evolved a lot since then, but it is still an amateur world. The title is played every year between two or three teams including ES Perai. We go in circles a little bit. (…) There are a lot of people who They love football, and who create matches with friends. But it does not go further, ”concludes the assistant coach of the current Nice U19s.
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