BELO HORIZONTE (AFP) – Jonathan Tehau struggled to articulate his joy after becoming the first player to score for Tahiti at a high-profile international tournament in his side’s 6-1 loss to Nigeria at the Confederations Cup.
Ranked 138th in the world, Tahiti are making their first appearance in a competition of this level and despite the margin of defeat in Monday’s game, they celebrated Tehau’s 54th-minute goal like a victory.
With the score 3-0, Tehau converted a back post-header from a corner before leading his team-mates in an imitation of the kayak-paddling celebration performed by Marama Vahirua, their one professional player.
The midfielder, who also works as a delivery driver and plays alongside his twin brothers Lorenzo and Alvin, as well as cousin Teaonui, said his mind had gone blank when the ball hit the net.
“I didn’t think of anything. I just celebrated the goal with my friends,” said the 25-year-old, who also scored an own goal later in the game.
“It’s just huge. Already, coming here to Brazil, and then scoring the goal, I’m very happy for me, for my family, my friends and my team-mates.”
Tehau said he hoped the goal would transform his life and when asked to name his ideal club, he replied with a grin: “Why not dream? Barcelona.”
For Vahirua, Tehau’s goal represented all that Tahiti could have hoped for.
“For us, we’ve won,” he said. “Nobody saw us scoring a goal; nobody but us. From the start, I told my team-mates to believe in ourselves.
“Football is never an exact science. We might be amateurs, but in our hearts and our heads, we have to act like professionals. We’re proud of ourselves.”
Tahiti were backed by the vast majority of the meagre crowd inside Belo Horizonte’s Estadio Mineirao, who booed Nigeria’s players throughout and celebrated enthusiastically when Tehau scored.
Coach Eddy Etaeta, who claimed the Tahitian government had broken off a ministerial meeting in order to watch the game, said he had been overwhelmed by the reception.
“I looked at the crowd and said: ‘Wow, Belo Horizonte is with us,'” he said.
“I’d like to thank all the people who helped us, all the supporters who were there at the training. We’re not used to being supported but today, I think we managed to conquer the hearts of the Brazilians.”
The might of world and European champions Spain now awaits Etaeta’s side, but Tehau said they would take heart from their display against Nigeria.
“We’ll have to try not to concede too many goals, try not to play badly, as we managed to do tonight, and try to enjoy playing against these players who we see on TV all the time,” he said.