AUCKLAND – Tahiti and New Zealand are emerging futsal nations, currently ranked second and third in Oceania respectively. The match was the first FIFA-sanctioned international to be held in Tahiti. Similarly, New Zealand’s international series with Australia last year was theirs.
Aito Arii proved a handful for New Zealand with their speed and movement, with the visitors also taking some time to adjust to the sweltering conditions and unfamiliar concrete court surface.
Over 2,000 fans packed into the intimate venue with Futsal Whites coach Scott Gilligan describing the fanatical support as being the hosts “sixth man” and playing a part in New Zealand’s slow start.
“I think the emotion of the occasion got to us a bit in the opening stages, we made some uncharacteristic individual errors and were 2-0 down inside 10 minutes,” Gilligan said.
After a cagey opening, the Tahitians took control of the match with a trio of well taken goals, while chances for New Zealand proved few and far between – Bakr Al Saudi rolled a shot across the face of the goal from a wide angle and James Vaughan poked a shot past the post after robbing a Tahitian defender near the ‘D’.
Tahiti led 3-0 at the break but an improved NZ emerged in the second stanza, and Tai Barham’s goal from a shot on the turn early on brought the Futsal Whites back into contention.
But Tahiti, led by the sublime skills of newcomer Tino Smith, were always dangerous on the counterattack and they squandered several clear chances to put the game beyond doubt.
Despite some late pressure from the Futsal Whites, Tahiti managed to wind the clock down in assured fashion, much to the delight of the home fans.
The two sides meet again on Monday (NZ time), with the final match on Wednesday.
Festival des iles | Match 1
At Stade Napoleon Spitz, Papeete
New Zealand 1