Tahiti : The world's next big football nation?

Tahiti will contest the Confederations Cup in Brazil after being crowned surprise winners of the Oceania Nations Cup.

With Euro 2012 on everybody's mind and dominating the news headlines, a tournament on the opposite side of the world may well have slipped up most people's radar.

Tahiti, a collection of islands in the mid-Pacific with a population of under 180,000 inhabitants, will soon be rubbing shoulders with Spain and Brazil in a football competition in front of the watching world.

That means Tahiti's goalscoring striker Steevy Chong Hue will be battling defenders Gerard Pique and Thiago Silva in a bid to make his country even prouder.

New Zealand were the clear favourites to win the Oceania Nations Cup, they impressed everybody at World Cup 2010 and left with their heads held high, unbeaten in three games.

At this tournament, they underperformed, and with Australia moved to the Asia confederation, the door was opened for new winners, and Tahiti obliged - winning their first ever tournament.

The closest Tahiti had come to triumph before was 1996, when they reached the final only to be demolished 11-0 on aggregate over two games by Australia.

The competition was hosted in the Solomon Islands, also featuring Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea.

All of the above are developing football nations, striving to become more structured, bring in professional coaches, and engage fans. Tahiti's upcoming trip to the Confederations Cup will be huge for the development of football not only in Tahiti but the whole region.

When the World Cup qualifiers kick off later this year, they will hope to repeat the success, and earn the right to compete at the world's elite international tournament, but the path will not be simple. New Zealand will come back refreshed and determined to prove a point, and winning the Oceania reason does not guarantee a spot in Brazil 2014, the victor must face the fifth best team from the Asia confederation in a two-legged play-off.

So how did they win it?

It has been a remarkable rise for the Polynesian nation; eight years ago back in 2004 they finished bottom of the group, a tournament which included a 9-0 loss to Australia. Back then they never would have foreseen this month's success.

Their rise began three years ago, when a talented group of players qualified for the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt, and much of that same squad are part of this tournament's success.

This year's win was aided by three brothers, Jonathan, Lorenzo, and Alvin Tehau, who scored 15 goals between them.

Away from international level, Tahitian club side AS Tefana have been making waves, reaching the final of this year's Oceania Champions League. Clearly the future is bright.

They beat New Caledonia in the final, another success story. New Caledonia were only admitted entry to FIFA back in 2004. They were the ones who knocked out New Zealand, and will feel unfortunate to have lost 1-0 to Tahiti in the final.

In essence, both were winners. The future in the tropical paradise is exciting, and it is a great thing for the rest of the world to see new countries making waves on the international stage, and the Confederations Cup in 2013 will be worth watching simply for Tahiti.

Watch the highlights of Tahiti's final victory...

image: © myeyesareclosed

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch