Tahiti Ligue 1 champions AS Pirae will make their first appearance in the Club World Cup after getting an invite at the last minute.
Auckland City were scheduled to take part in the competition as representatives of Oceania, but were forced to withdraw because of the delayed reopening of borders in New Zealand. As a result, the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) nominated AS Pirae in their place.
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Five things to know about AS Pirae…
- AS Pirae are the current Tahiti Ligue 1 champions and the second-most decorated club in the competition’s history, with 10 titles.
- They reached the OFC Champions League final in 2006 which is the furthest any French Polynesian side has ever gone in Oceania’s premier competition.
- They currently have a player called Jonathan Tehau and his brother Alvin Tehau, who started Tahiti’s 10-0 loss to Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
- AS Pirae reached the Coupe de France seventh round in 2015/16 as an Overseas Territories team, but lost 6-5 to fifth tier outfit GSI Pontivy after extra-time.
- Ajkule are the first Tahitian team ever to play at a Club World Cup.
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Coach Naea Bennett relishing the challenge
Despite being given so little time to prepare for the tournament in the United Arab Emirates, having been handed the opportunity on New Year’s Eve, AS Pirae’s head coach Naea Bennett is nonetheless savouring every moment to pit his tactical wits in the competition.
His side take on Al Jazira — who are in the tournament as the host nation’s league champions — in the first round, and could potentially set up a meeting with 2021 AFC Champions League winners Al Hilal in the next phase. And Bennett insists his men are not just there to make up the numbers.
“I told my team I don’t like to travel to this kind of competition just to do it. If we go, we go to do our best to win the first game,” Bennett told the Oceania Football Confederation’s official website.
“It is a great honour for us to have been selected by OFC to represent Oceania. It is a big tournament for us and we are really happy to have this opportunity.
“It hasn’t been hard (to motivate) everyone. Our players play every season to have the opportunity to go to this tournament.”
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A (subtle) history on the big stage?
Although AS Pirae travel to Abu Dhabi almost as a complete unknown entity to the general footballing community, they do have some previous when it comes to big moments — and one or two players who have locked metaphorical horns with some of the best in the business.
In the OFC Champions League — the competition that gains clubs from Pirae’s neck of the woods entry to the CWC — the French Polynesian side have reached a semi-final as recently as 2013/14, where they lost to Auckland City over two legs, who are, for all intents and purposes, the tournament’s most successful club.
They reached the final in 2006 when it was then known as Oceania Club Championship, but again lost to Auckland City, while they even recently competed in the 2015/16 Coupe de France, making it to the seventh round where Brittany-based side Pontivy travelled to Tahiti and only won after extra time.
Then, of course, Jonathan Tehau and brother Alvin Tehau will know exactly what it’s like to do battle with star names. They started in Tahiti’s 10-0 reversal to Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup, which remains the record for the biggest margin of victory in a FIFA senior men’s tournament.
Fernando Torres helped himself to four, David Villa got a hat-trick, David Silva a brace, and Juan Mata even got on the scoresheet, as Vicente del Bosque’s star-studded La Roja made international football history. Still, a solid learning curve for the Tehau siblings ahead of this tournament.
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