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There was no miracle. AS Pirae, the club on the outskirts of Papeete, the capital of that paradisiacal island called Tahiti, was eliminated in the first exchange against Al-Jazira, from the United Arab Emirates, who beat them 4-1 in the first game of the Club World Cup 2022. Anyway, That group of part-time soccer players dressed in orange left the stadium with more than one reason to smile.

Lifting the champion trophy was so unlikely that bets paid 500-1. Pirae is not even the champion of Oceania: it came into the competition after that confederation’s Champions League was suspended. And his representative was chosen by ranking. Auckland City, from New Zealand, was lowered by the increase in health restrictions amid the pandemic. Three Sports, from New Caledonia, ran into bureaucracy: he did not arrive on time with paperwork and vaccinations. Pirae, a ten-time Ligue 1 winner from Tahiti, He embraced the opportunity with the arms of the 300,000 inhabitants of that paradise on Earth.

The Cinderella of the Club World Cup: the players of AS Pirae, from Tahiti, applaud the spectators after losing 4-1 to Al Jazira, from the United Arab Emirates
The Cinderella of the Club World Cup: the players of AS Pirae, from Tahiti, applaud the spectators after losing 4-1 to Al Jazira, from the United Arab EmiratesMichael Regan-FIFA-FIFA

He invested in a month of preparation and coronavirus testing for the 35 members of his delegation. Seven of his players tested positive just before traveling. The 38-hour journey (Papeete-Los Angeles-Paris-Dubai and then two hours by bus) was about to be cancelled. But they traveled the same; they played the same And they raised their arms, incredulous, when the Moroccan Mohamed Rabie, from Al-Jazira, converted a goal against that would have been repeated ad nauseam in the famous Videomatch of Argentine midnights. That goal went down in history: it is the first by a Tahitian club in a FIFA competition.

“We are amateurs. We all have jobs during the day. We found out at Christmas about this possibility of the Club World Cup, and we had a feeling of pure euphoria”, he says. Roonui Tinirauarii, striker for Pirae and former national team footballer Sub 15 and Sub 17 of Tahiti in an interview with the official FIFA website. admirer of Ronaldo -the Brazilian, the Phenomenon-, this 24-year-old striker always dreamed of making a living kicking a ball. “But on a small island the opportunities are scarce”, he laments. For this reason, between 2018 and 2019 he dedicated himself to missionary work in deep Africa. He returned to his land, bathed by the sea, and joined the police. Now he’s chasing criminals. And, when he can, he trains. “I work one week during the day and the other at night. When I work the night shift I can’t train with the team, so I work out on my own. It is difficult to practice a team sport like soccer individually, but I run, I go to the gym and I practice shooting on goal,” says Tiniraurarii.

Despite their 10 national titles, AS Pirae does not have a Twitter or Instagram profile. Just an official page in Facebook. The 500,000 dollars that he will receive for his match against Al Jazira is a figure never imagined, and the arrangement indicates that it will be divided among the 16 clubs that would have participated in the Oceanic Champions League last year, suspended by the coronavirus pandemic. The Polynesian club, the same, will have a sum as important as it is unthinkable for its participation.

The summary of Al Jazeera 4 vs. pirate 1

Tahiti, strictly speaking, is the largest island in French Polynesia (“Polynesia” means “many islands”), one of the many French overseas territories. As such, teams from all Gallic colonies are entitled to participate in the French Cup. Almost six years ago, Pirae was about to monopolize the front pages of the newspapers when he faced the main stadium of Papeete (capital of Tahiti) with the Pontivy, who in 2015 was a member of the fourth category of French football. Vahirua Moon (former player of Nantes, Nice, Lorient, Monaco, among other teams, and one of the best in the history of Tahitian football) wore the number 3 Pirae shirt that day. The territorial French needed the extension to eliminate their island rivals. It was 6-5; and it was also an unforgettable match.

At 17, defender Tanetoa Haumau is the youngest member of the delegation. He studies auto mechanics and the latest model buildings in Emirati cities only appeared in his dreams. He saw them in person. “You never know if the Chelsea manager will notice me and ask me to play for his team,” he says, quoted by the AFP agency. The globalization of the Premier League causes in footballers (professionals and not) a magnetism that is difficult to explain. The dream of the Pirae squad was to have Chelsea, current champions of the Champions League, on the other side of the field. Knowing that they were two games away from making it was a motivation for these vocational players from the South Pacific.

AS Pirae players pose for a photo after their loss.
AS Pirae players pose for a photo after their loss.Michael Regan-FIFA-FIFA

The 1044 square kilometers of Tahiti earned a place in the universe of the ball thanks to beach soccer. It sounds logical for a country that vibrates on its shores and that has tourism as its main activity. Four Pirae soccer players and even their coach have a ticket to the Tahitian beach soccer team. And they were even protagonists of the greatest feat of that sport: the world runner-up in 2015. Jonathan Torohia, one of the seven footballers who tested positive before traveling to the Emirates last week, fYou were the best goalkeeper in that tournament and won the gold glove. Naea Bennett, current Pirae coach, was instrumental in the semi-final match with two goals against powerhouse Italy. Bennett, however, did not play in the final with Portugal for religious reasons: he is a Mormon and the decisive match was played on a Sunday. The day of rest.

There is another Pirae player in the history books. The Tahiti national team was invited to the 2013 Confederations Cup, prelude to the World Cup in Brazil. The Polynesian team lost all three games, as expected (including a 10-0 loss against reigning world champions Spain). But Jonathan Tehau gave himself a big treat: converting his team’s only goal in the 6-1 draw against Nigeria.

This Thursday, Tehau shared the defense of Pirae with his brother Alvin. And he could do little to avoid the four goals scored by a rival with much more hierarchy and budget like Al Jazeera. The fourth, in addition, will compete until the end for the prize for the best goal of the tournament. I write it down Adoulay Diaby, a globetrotter who at the age of 30 has already played in Portugal, Belgium, France, Turkey and Spain. The Arabs were bound to win and fulfilled all predictions. For the Pirae footballers, on the other hand, the triumph was to compete.

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