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Tahiti the whipping boys

The winners of the Oceania Nations Cup face a rough ride in the Confederations Cup – but should they be there at all?
Last modified: 13 Jun 2013 16:26

What on earth are Tahiti doing in the Confederations Cup? 

They will be the biggest Tahitian whipping boys since Captain Bligh sailed the South Pacific in the 18th century and there was a 'mutiny on the Bounty'.

It underlines the problem FIFA have had since Australia became part of Asia's football family, and even they would not be an ideal 'eighth' team in a major tournament on current form.

Australia's departure in 2006 has given opportunities to New Zealand in international and club football that may not be entirely fair, despite their commendable effort 2010 World Cup.  

Auckland City were unable to make an impact in the Club World Cup, though they will get another chance later this year. This despite playing another of the weaker sides early in competition week.

But the national side? If you lose out to Tahiti there's something not right. 

How do you solve a problem like Oceania?

First you have to accept there's a problem. Should the winners of the Oceania Nations Cup play in the Confederations Cup? Does this continent have to be represented? The easy answers to both of these questions is yes, but it's this thinking that will mean a proud group of footballers from Tahiti will be humiliated three times over in Brazil.

They are the smallest nation ever to be play in a senior FIFA competition but this is not something to be celebrated without considering the consequences of three thrashings when they are in with the big boys. It's too simple to say they will learn from a great experience.

The Confederations Cup could learn something from the Champions Trophy cricket tournament being played in England. 

This tournament is also not as important as a World Cup. It also has to establish its credibility as a trophy of merit. And it is also an eight-team format. But in 2013 the organisers have got it right by asking the best eight teams in the world to play in a short punchy format. The quality has given it an authenticity that has lifted the tournament's reputation considerably.

Now consider Group B of the Confederations Cup: World champions Spain, African champions Nigeria, South American champions Uruguay ... and a team from a continent lacking in credible teams - Tahiti.

So could Eddy Etaeta's team actually surprise us with their ability? Have you ever seen Alvin Tehau play? Or his twin brother Lorenzo? Or their brother Jonathan? You may well do in Rio. Very few of the squad have experience overseas or indeed any experience of football at professional level. Imagine trying to mark Suarez or the Spanish talent coming at them in waves. 

It's not their fault that they are unlikely to take a point in Brazil, or that their group will be weaker than Group A.

A three-team fight to qualify with three one-sided games is a lopsided competition. 

In an age where the alleged demands on footballers are so great the need for squads and rotation rules, is there any place for an old-fashioned one-sided rout?

European parallels

The worst offenders for this insistence on equal opportunities are UEFA. Their qualification procedures are increasingly farcical as seeds get two games (home and away) against a San Marino and perhaps another weak nation. Four games wasted. 

San Marino simply do not win games. Nor draw them. And no wonder with a population considerably smaller than the 170,000 plus of Tahiti. Please spare me from one more 'light hearted' article on the waiter or bank manager trying to score against a big nation. 

If Bayern or Barcelona don't have to play in the early rounds of the Champions League why is there pre-qualifying ahead of a World Cup or European Championship?

These days goalscoring records need asterisks and close examination. Or Klose examination if he gets to score five against Liechtenstein. International goals and internationals are losing something by allowing the minnows to face the cream of Europe. 

Lightning can strike, yes. But oh so rarely. If you are the lucky owner of a copy of the International Football Book from 1992 you will find an article from me on the greatest shocks in football history. And in the ten shocks is the 'miracle' of the Faroe Islands winning their first competitive international against Austria 1-0 on neutral ground in 1990.

The Faroes have won very few games since and should surely be amongst those going through pre-qualifiers. But there was a great story last year when a schoolboy from the islands worked out they should above Wales in the FIFA rankings. So if this had meant Wales - a far more established football nation - having to pre-qualify, so be it.

Could that lightning strike in Brazil and Tahiti prove me and this article wrong? Anything's possible - but perhaps walk past the betting shop if you are tempted to back it. 

Far more likely is that Tahiti win friends in Brazil as people root for the underdog and take delight in this opportunity they have been given. As long as you have a ticket for a one of the other games. 

When Captain Cook sailed into these south Pacific islands they saw all kinds of potential and possibilities. 

But if Cook had discovered Tahiti were in the Confederations Cup I think even he would have expected them to ship goals.

This column appears on the Insideworldfootball.com website where Lee Wellings represents Al Jazeera.