Soccer

Uruguay reaches Confed Cup semis with win over Tahiti

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The Canadian Press
6/23/2013 6:10:09 PM
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RECIFE, Brazil -- Moments after Tahiti succumbed to its third rout in three matches, the fans in Brazil really started to cheer for the team that never stood a chance.

The South Pacific islanders enjoyed overwhelming support throughout the Confederations Cup, but the adulation reached a climax Sunday following Tahiti's 8-0 loss to Group B rival Uruguay.

That's when the substitutes walked onto the field at the Arena Pernambuco carrying Brazilian flags and unfurling a large green and white banner with "Obrigado Brasil" printed on it. In English, that means "Thank You Brazil."

"We've been really pleasantly surprised by the love shown to us by the Brazilian public. They've supported us to the end," Tahiti forward Steevy Chong Hue said. "And we'd like to thank them from the bottom of our hearts."

Tahiti, a team of mostly amateur players who won the Oceania Nations Cup to qualify for the World Cup warm-up tournament, has been the adopted team of the Brazilian public. The purveyors of the "Beautiful Game" have been won over by Tahiti's attack-minded pluckiness against insurmountable odds in matches against Nigeria, Spain and Uruguay.

In those three matches, Tahiti was outscored 24-1.

"We've been routed three times. We've been defeated," Chong Hue said. "But what was important for us was to represent our country and our values."

For Uruguay, the point of Sunday's match was to win and reach the semifinals. They did that, getting four goals from Abel Hernandez and two from second-half substitute Luis Suarez.

The World Cup semifinalists, who left strikers Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani on the bench, will play Brazil in the semifinals on Wednesday in Belo Horizonte.

"Fortunately for us, what had to happen, happened," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said.

Hernandez scored a first-half hat trick and added a penalty in the second half. Diego Perez and Nicolas Lodeiro also scored for the South American champions.

Hernandez's first goal, a header which came 1 minute, 19 seconds into the match, is the fastest to be scored in the history of the World Cup warm-up tournament, according to FIFA.

But Tahiti goalkeeper Gilbert Meriel stopped the final score from getting worse by saving a penalty from Andres Scotti in the 50th minute.

One minute later, Scotti was sent off with a second yellow card.

Tahiti even managed to create a few chances, perhaps the best when Marama Vahirua, the team's only professional football player, shot at Uruguay goalkeeper Martin Silva in the 34th for an easy save.

"My players really played with their souls, with all their hearts. This is what was important for us," Tahiti coach Eddie Etaeta said. "At the end of the game today, they made a point of thanking the Brazilian public ... This is what we will take back with us from Brazil."

Earlier in the half, Tahiti defender Teheivarii Ludivion was given a yellow card in the eighth minute for bringing down Matias Aguirregaray, the first caution the team had received at the tournament. He was then sent off for a second yellow in the 59th.

Chong Hue and Tahiti captain Nicolas Vallar also received yellow cards.

"During the game you get carried away," Chong Hue said. "We shouldn't regret anything."

Meriel, who dived to his left to stop Scotti's penalty and then scrambled to control the loose ball, was the third different goalkeeper to start for Tahiti in the team's three matches at the competition.

Xavier Samin played in the 6-1 loss to Nigeria in the opening match last Monday, and Mikael Roche was in goal for the 10-0 drubbing against Spain on Thursday.

Those three losses, however, won't be as memorable for the Tahitians as just being in Brazil to take part in a major tournament against some of the world's best players.

"It's a real dream for us, because three, four, five years ago we would never have imagined being here playing with the best players in the world," Chong Hue said. "It's been a great pleasure to play these countries, these players."

Uruguay Celebrates (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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