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30 Jul 2013
Tahiti bring a little sunshine to Zurich
Tiki Toa pay visit to Home of FIFA, and meet the FIFA president Joseph S. Blatter, and the Secretary General, Jerôme Valcke
Storm clouds gathered over Zurich on Monday as the heatwave that had gripped the city gave way to dramatic scenes. The sky above FIFA's headquarters turned a menacing black and lightning bolts ripped through the air as the heavens opened.
Yet by 10.00 the following day, everything was back to normal. As Tahiti's beach soccer team arrived in town, they were met by a bright sun hanging proudly in a blue sky, a sign perhaps that fortune is smiling on the Tiki Toa (Warriors) as they prepare for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup on home soil in September.
Either way, the Tahitians were buzzing with excitement as they paid a visit to the Home of FIFA. The 16 players and the team's staff were clearly eager to make the most of their trip, lighting up the various trophies on show, including the FIFA World Cup?, with a burst of camera flashes.
Spirits could hardly have been higher in the reception area, where some players watched a video loop of highlights from the last FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, while others continued taking photos of every nook and cranny.
They then met with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke on FIFA's beach soccer pitch, offering them traditional Tahitian necklaces and exchanging embraces before Mr Blatter extended the warmest of welcomes.
"It's an honour to have a national team here at the Home of FIFA," he said. "I won't wish you 'good luck' for the tournament because that isn't done, but I hope you are successful in your World Cup. And, who knows, perhaps I will see you in the final?"
Tahiti hit the training ground
After a group photo, some ball juggling with the FIFA President and a colourful Haka dance ? tongues out, as per tradition ? the Tahitians were then put through their paces in a training session, though not before captain Naea Bennett expressed his thanks.
"It's great for us to visit FIFA," he said. "We're a small island, and people think of tourism when they think about Tahiti, but we want to put ourselves on the beach soccer map. We're honoured that FIFA is taking an interest in a small island like our own."
Perhaps the best-known player in the delegation was Marama Vahirua, but despite his high profile the former Nantes and Lorient player was along to learn. The forward is keen to feature at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup if he can make the grade at the different discipline, and he cannot wait for the tournament to get started.
"It's huge," he said. "When they called me, I accepted straight away because it's a World Cup, and on top of that it'll be at home. They didn't need to come up with any more arguments to convince me to give it a try. Everything is in place for it to be an incredible opportunity."
Tahiti will go into the finals full of optimism too. While each of the players remains realistic, their results in warm-up games have undoubtedly been encouraging, the Tiki Toa beating established sides the Netherlands, Switzerland and France at home before winning the Euro Nationscup in Linz, Austria, slotting ten goals past the hosts in the final.
"Our goal was to reach the quarter-finals, which would already be historic for our country and the whole of Oceania," said Bennett. "But it's true that, given our good results during our preparations, why can't we dream of going further and winning this World Cup at home?"
Player-coach Teva Daniel Zaveroni was a little more cautious, however: "It would be a lack of respect towards the big beach soccer teams to say we want to win the World Cup, but my dream is to represent our country and all of Oceania in the best way possible and make the whole of our region proud."
Judging by the energy put into their afternoon training session in Zurich, watched over by assistant coach Angelo Schirinzi, they have every chance of doing precisely that when the tournament unfolds between 18 and 28 September.