Tahiti's national football team, also known as Toa Aito (Iron Warriors), might have been more porous than hard but there are stories that sometimes get lost. Representing the Pacific nation of French Polynesia, with a population of only 267,000 (January 2010 estimate), and an area of 4,167 square kilometers, the Iron Warriors still topped the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC), comprising 11 nations as follows: American Samoa , Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati , New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti (French Polynesia) , Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu. Tahiti has competed in the OFC since 1990. Traditionally one of the stronger footballing nations of the Pacific Islands, with the second best record with five football victories. They were runners-up in the first three installments of the Nations Cup (1973, 1980, and 1996). The Iron Warriors qualified for the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt. This success was followed up with the title of 2012 OFC Nations Cup, becoming the first team other than Australia and New Zealand to win the competition.
2013 FIFA Confederations Cup
The squad: GK: Mickaël Roche, Gilbert Meriel, and Xavier Samin DF: Teheivarii Ludivion, Tamatoa Wagemann, Stephane Faatiarau, Nicholas Vallar (Captain), Edson Lemaire, Rainui Aroita, Vincent Simon, and Yannick Vero MF: Alvin Tehau, Henri Caroine, Heimano Bourebare, Stanley Atani, Lorenzo Tehau, Ricky Aitamai, Jonathan Tehau, and Yohann Tihoni FW: Marama Vahirua, Teaonui Tehau, Steevy Chong Hue, and Samuel Hnanyine The team of journeyman footballers, all play domestically bar Marama Vahirua, a 33-year-old forward with Nancy in France. The team ranges in age from 18 to 35 years, averaging at 25.5 years. The Tribute
Having shipped in 24 goals in this year’s Confederations Cup, it is hard at face value to find positives, yet there are pluses from the team’s campaign. To start with, Tahiti are in this tournament, having qualified by topping ten regional rivals. That makes their participation legit. A nation of 267,000 gets to play rivals that boast in excess of 3 million (Uruguay) and 120 million (Nigeria). Add to that 22 of 23 Tahiti players plying their trade at home, in contrast with teams that either boast competitive domestic leagues and national players based in organized leagues abroad. In the words of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Olympic Movement: “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” The Baron’s romanticism was strongly influenced by the saying mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body. Is that not the essence of competition and participation? A winner has to be found and an opponent respects his vanquisher. The pride of Tahiti might have left Brazil having been on the wrong end of results, but they remain giants and pioneers from their region. The Iron Warriors also provide hope for nations like Kenya who are yet to taste international football success. It can be done. For that they deserve respect. My lasting impression of Tahiti will be their pre-match handing out of necklaces to opponents and unbridled joy at having scored against Nigeria. The thrill of winning and lifting trophies might cast a large shadow over stories like Tahiti but forgotten the Warriors should not be.
Images used with permission.