CBC Sports - FIFA Confederations Cup

FIFA Confederations CupTahiti doesn't belong at Confederations Cup

Posted: Monday, June 17, 2013 | 03:09 PM

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Tahiti's players are the proverbial little fish in the big pond in Brazil. (Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images) Tahiti's players are the proverbial little fish in the big pond in Brazil. (Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images)

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It's a feel-good story, but the reality is that Tahiti shouldn't be in the Confederations Cup in Brazil.The tiny island nation just hasn't played enough competition in the lead-up to the tournament.
Think Tahiti, and your mind might drift to the impossible blues of the South Pacific, the constantly threatening volcanoes, or the artistic brush strokes of Gaugin.

Think Tahitian soccer, and words like artistic and threatening fall somewhat lower down the imagery scale.

The word impossible does not.

At the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, the Tahitians have an impossible task.

Their group includes Nigeria (reigning African champions), Uruguay (finished in the final four at the last World Cup) and Spain (reigning World Cup champions and one of the best national sides ever assembled).

When facing Goliath, at least David had a slingshot.

Striker Marama Vahirua is the most likely to impersonate David in Brazil. A veteran of the top leagues in France and Greece, Vahirua is accustomed to playing against elite players and in front of big crowds.

When Tahiti faces Spain on Thursday at the Maracana Stadium in Rio for its second round-robin match, it will be playing in a venue that has held more fans then there are Tahitians.

Mercifully, the capacity has been reduced. Fewer vultures to preside over the kill.

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The reality is the Tahitians shouldn't be in this Confederations Cup.They just haven't had enough competition in the lead-up.

With due respect to the likes of New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, victories over those soccer nations should not justify a seat at the table of a tournament this big.

Not when Mexico must get by the United States, Honduras and Costa Rica to get there. Not when Japan needed to better South Korea, Australia and Iran.

Imagine Tahiti trying to qualify out of the African Nations Cup after facing countries like Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria? I won't even get started imagining the Tahitians' plight in Europe or South America.

My issue is not with Tahiti itself. I'm all for romance in international soccer. I was the first to raise a glass to New Zealand as the "All Whites" shocked their way through the last World Cup by drawing each of their matches, even though they shouldn't have been at that tournament either.

My issue is squarely with the Oceanic Qualifying Group. FIFA should disband it and fold it into Asia.

Australia realized that a long time ago. In 2006, the Socceroos, knowing that regional competition would never suitably prepare them for a World Cup, bolted for the Asian Qualifying Zone.

As FIFA has things organized right now, the winner of Oceania plays the fourth-place finisher in CONCACAF (North and Central America and the Caribbean). The winner of that two-leg playoff series books a ticket to the World Cup.

That's completely unfair.

On the basis of today's world rankings, New Zealand would only have to beat one country in the top 100 (New Caledonia at No. 97) to get to that playoff. Conversely, the fourth-place finisher in CONCACAF might meet any of 13 countries in the top 100 before getting to that same playoff opportunity.

At least with World Cup qualifying, there is a playoff. To get to the Confederations Cup it's a direct flight from Papeete to Rio.

Even the most impressive brush stroke from Gauguin couldn't make that look pretty to me.

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