Tahiti defender climbs down from coconut trees to play

Tahiti's national football team arrives at Tancredo Neves International Airport in Belo Horizonte,...

Tahiti's national football team arrives at Tancredo Neves International Airport in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais State, where the team will began preparations for the 2013 Confederations Cup. (AFP)

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, Last Updated: 10:16 PM ET

The professionals of Nigeria, Spain and Uruguay have probably never played against an opponent who earns his living climbing coconut trees and mountains but when they take on Tahiti that is exactly what they will be up against.

Nigeria, the champions of Africa, Spain, champions of Europe and the world and South American champions Uruguay will take on defender Teheivarii Ludivion and his fellow Tahiti amateurs in Group B at the Confederations Cup in Brazil.

"We have guys doing different jobs, but nine of the squad are unemployed. Some of them are delivery boys, a truck driver, some of them are PE teachers, some are accountants," said Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta, holding court in a media briefing.

"And we also have a player -- Teheivarii Ludivion -- he wakes up every day at 4.30 in the morning and climbs mountains all day long.

"He is a mountain climber, but he will climb anything. He climbs coconut trees, he climbs all kinds of things and then he comes training. So this is his daily life. He climbs coconut trees and mountains.

Ludivion earns his money as part of a conservation scheme in Tahiti, whose whole squad, apart from captain Marama Vahirua who plays in France, are amateurs.

"So this is a very different, rich experience for my players but one they have earned and we will learn from this experience," added Etaeta, whose media session was interrupted by a local TV reporter declaring his undying love for Tahiti and handing him a Brazilian good luck charm.

Tahiti open their campaign against Nigeria at the Mineirao Stadium on Monday before facing Spain and Uruguay in their other group fixtures.

Tahiti have qualified for this tournament as Oceania champions and one of the main reasons they managed that was because Australia moved from Oceania to the Asian confederation in 2006, allowing smaller countries from the vast region to compete for the top honours.

"There is a huge gap between amateur and professional players, a huge chasm," said Etaeta, whose players call him "Dad" because most of them have known him since they were 12 or 13.

WILDEST DREAMS

"But technically and physically we work hard and although it is unlikely we will be on a par with Nigeria tomorrow, we are ready, we will fight like lions and do everything to represent our country as best as possible," he added.

"If Australia were still part of the Oceania confederation we would never, ever see a small island state like ours take part in a competition like the Confederations Cup."

But they are here and aim to do themselves proud.

"After Australia left, New Zealand were the best country in the confederation, but now a small island archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, just 270,000 people will take part and write a new page in football history," Etaeta said.

"Amateur football is not recognised, is not considered but it is true ... and we aim to show the pride of amateur football."

Vahirua added that when he started playing, never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined Tahiti taking part in a competition like this.

"I looked around the stadium, I was in awe. We do not have stadiums like this in Tahiti, but now we must give our best," the 32-year-old said.

"It is like a film running through my head, it is an incredible achievement for us. In some ways it is a gift and a payback for everything invested in me."


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