by Daniel Duchene
The group phase of the FIFA Confederations Cup is over and so is Tahiti’s humble campaign. Even though their spot in the tournament was rightfully earned, stunning the favorite New Zealand and going on to win the 2012 Oceania Nations Cup, Tahiti came to Brazil with very low expectations.
In the Confederations Cup, there is no way around it. All the teams present are champions of their own continents and Tahiti found themselves in a strong group, having to face Nigeria (African Cup champion), Spain (2010 World Cup champion), and Uruguay (Copa America champion). Just as expected, the results were all blowout games with Tahiti losing with a record of 24 goals allowed in only 3 games, the worst in Confederations Cup history.
All of this sounds like a terrible assessment, right? Not for Tahiti! As they should, the Tahitian delegation is only taking the positives from this experience, and there are a lot of positives from this trip.
From the beginning, the Brazilian population was quite sensible to the Oceania Cup champion’s underdog story. But, after witnessing their emotional celebration when scoring their first goal ever outside their own continent – they were down 3 x 0 after the first half against Nigeria, and went on to loose 6 x 1 – the Brazilian people were seduced by how humble and passionate the Tahitian squad was. From then on, Brazil adopted Tahiti as if they were their own, and filled the stadiums to cheer them against much more popular teams.
This unexpected love story grew even stronger when, during their second game, Tahiti’s goal keeper, Mikael Roche, celebrated a missed penalty kick from their opponent Spain as if they had scored a goal, even though they were loosing 8 x 0 with only 10 minutes left in the game. The same scenario was repeated when Uruguay also missed a PK in their 8 x 0 victory against Tahiti.
These humble and genuine actions – Tahiti’s coach gave away 15 tickets to poor kids during their visit to a favela in Rio – won the hearts of the Brazilians who went on to treat them like World Cup champions. After their last press conference before going back to Tahiti, Etaeta (Tahiti’s coach) thanked all the journalists in the press-room. One by one, he shook every journalist’s hand and said thank you. In the end, he was applauded by all and revealed that he did not want to leave Brazil, and “leave the dream behind”.
This admirable story goes a long way in showing the welcoming nature of the Brazilian population. Brazilians are passionate and emotional people, and once you are able to get to their heart, they will make you feel welcome, as if you were one of them. This is what happened with Tahiti during the 2013 FIFA Confedrations Cup: they showed, humbly, that they wanted to belong, and the Brazilian population responded, genuinely, and made them feel like they did.