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June 23, 2013

Ask Sports: Why is Tahiti playing in the Confederations Cup?

Is Tahiti soccer really bad? Why are they on ESPN if they are?

Is Tahiti soccer really bad? Why are they on ESPN if they are?

If you flipped the channels this week and caught soccer games with very un-soccerlike scores of 10-0 and 6-1, you probably saw the Tahiti national team on the losing end to World Cup champion Spain and Nigeria.

The competition — the Confederations Cup — is FIFA’s once-every-four-years tournament that matches up the champions of each continental soccer federation. It’s held the year before the World Cup to partially serve as a warmup tourney for the host country and venues. The United States lost to Brazil in the final of the 2009 edition.

Tahiti, which isn’t technically a country (but that’s a different question), qualified for this year’s tournament as the winner of the 2012 Oceania Football Confederation.

Oceania is traditionally the weakest of the confederations, with Australia and New Zealand dominating a number a Pacific island teams. Australia moved to the Asian confederation a few years before, leaving the Kiwis as the only real “power” in the group.

New Caledonia — another non-country — provided the shock of that tournament, defeating New Zealand 2-0 in a semifinal. Tahiti, ranked No. 138 in the world, took advantage of the upset to defeat New Caledonia 1-0 in the final.

That gave Tahiti entry into this year’s Confed Cup, which is televised by ESPN, to serve as the ultimate underdog.

The 10-0 drubbing at the hands of the Spanish tied Tahiti’s worst loss in the team’s history.

Before the match Tahiti’s coach, Eddy Etaeta, was more pessimistic than your average No. 16 seed playing the Jayhawks:

"We are highly realistic,'' Etaeta said. "It's impossible for us to win against Spain. Our objective it to try to score, or not to be scored against, for half an hour. But maybe we can score one goal and against Spain, even if it's 15 or 20 against one. It's impossible, yes quite impossible.''

But he was also ecstatic to be there, with the team that has only a single professional player.

"For us it's a bit like it's Christmas and we are like children going to the Christmas tree to pick up the presents,'' he said.

Joshua Wood

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