It’s not often that a 6-1 drubbing is greeted by the losing team like a last minute winner in a World Cup final, but such was the joy expressed by Tahiti players after they scored against Nigeria, that we could have all been forgiven for thinking that they had just clinched football’s most coveted prize.
And, perhaps, in a romantic and nostalgic way, they did just that.
In a world where football has ceased to be a game and source of wholesome entertainment a long time ago, Eddy Etaeta’s men proved that it is still possible to enjoy football for its quintessential values, even if it involves collecting a series of heavy defeats.
Football is a result-driven environment, one where feelings and morals have long been replaced by a ruthlessly scientific approach, one where we no longer talk of winning trophies but of delivering results, like at a shareholders meeting.
Moments such as the one Tahiti provided yesterday when Jonathan Tehau’s header found its way into the back the net, are all too rare occasion, strange when they happen you realise how far the game we love has drifted from its roots and from its fans.
Unfortunately, football has distanced itself from reality so much that cheering an underdog has become automatically patronising, even for those who are genuinely pleased to see the Goliath of the moment being momentarily rocked by David’s well delivered punch.
That’s why, every time Nigeria scored yesterday, we all found ourselves agreeing with the BBC’s pundits pontificating on the little significance those goals would bear on Tahiti’s performance.
In situations such as this, being patronising is, perhaps, both inevitable and not purposefully chosen for, after all, it’s hard not to feel benevolent towards a team ranked 138th in the world, with just one professional player in their ranks.
The cynics would point out that feel-good stories are the last, desperate, resource die-hard romantics turn to in a misguided attempt to convince themselves that what was once pure – football, for this argument’s sake – has not been entirely tarnished by money and progress. Others would – quite rightly, perhaps – question the need to include such a poor team in a tournament including household names of international football.
Both are valid and sensible arguments, but in an environment that constantly alienates itself from its origins and from the people who have made it so popular, stories such as Tahiti’s are a timely reminder that football, after all, is about moments like the one we witnessed yesterday.
Nigeria was arguably the weakest of Tahiti’s opponents in Group B, meaning that things could get much uglier for the tiny Pacific island against World Champions Spain and Uruguay but Eddy Etaeta’s men won’t be fazed by Iniesta and Forlan.
Last year we marveled at how different sports valued losers as much as, if not more than, the winners. Yesterday Tahiti proved that football can deliver Olympic moments too.