The Australian team proved a bigger threat than expected at the Minifootball World Cup in Tunisia, and Pambula’s Tai Smith was fronting the pack.
The sport is relatively unknown in Australia and this was the national team’s first appearance at the sport’s world cup event, held from October 6-15.
Despite being new to the stage, the Australian team fought their way into quarterfinals to the surprise of crowds and competition.
“Everyone thought Australia was coming only for a holiday until they realised the boys were strong and keen to win all the games,” Australian Minifootball Federation president Miguel Maron said.
“We were not expecting to go to quarter-finals as our group was the ‘group of death’, but we carried along well and did our best.”
Australia thumped the Argentinians 5-1, before taking a 1-5 stumble against previous premiers Czech Republic. They broke out of the group stage and regained their confidence with a 3-3 draw to France.
The team secured a spot in the quarterfinals after beating Bosnia-Herzegovina on penalties 4-3 after a game that stayed tied at 3-3 in extra time, but went down to Spain with one minute on the clock in a tight 3-4 battle.
As a striker and left wing player, Smith was at the front of the action for most of the team’s games.
“Tai did very well in the whole competition except on the last game against Spain, he had tired legs as did most of our players,” Maron said.
“But he was strong until the end he never gave up he scored few goals and had few assists in the game.”
Watching in anticipation from their couch in Pambula, Smith’s sister Ayla said his whole family was very proud to see him chase his passion on a national level.
“He was always crazy about soccer, he drove us all crazy kicking the ball around at home as a kid,” she said.
“I'm so proud that he is following his dreams, and if I could have gone to cheer him on I would have been over there in a heart beat, all his family are cheering for him and the Australian team and wishing them the best of luck.”
Smith said he was very grateful for the opportunity to be at the world cup and with such an amazing team. He was so happy his friends and family were following the games back at home and it was great to feel all the support from everyone.
Smith is currently visiting family in the Netherlands before he returns to Sydney, where he plays in regular football and minifootball leagues. Smith was asked to represent Australia when his minifootball team won their grand final this year.