Congratulations to Haiti’s National Football Team for a great 2015 Gold Cup run. They did an great job and made our country proud!
They came into the Gold Cup as Underdogs. Drawn into a tough Group A with one of CONCACAF’s two powerhouses (USA) and two of Central America’s heavyweights (Honduras and Panama), Les Grenadiers showed up and played their hearts out and advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. Many of the current squad were born outside of Haiti including three in the United States and more players than ever ply their trade in leagues abroad; in fact, only the No. 3 goalkeeper is with a Haitian club.
Although Haiti lost to Jamaica in the quarter finals this past weekend, they are still one of the most talked about teams in the Gold Cup.
GOLD CUP HISTORY
Haiti have qualified for the Gold Cup five previous times, but it has rarely been a pleasurable experience. Twice, they have advanced from the group stage. Their best performance came in 2002, when they won a group with Canada and Ecuador before falling in the quarterfinals to Costa Rica in extratime. At the last Gold Cup, in 2013, Les Grenadiers surprised many with a 2-0 group-stage defeat of fellow Caribbean nation Trinidad & Tobago, thanks to a brace from forward Jean Eudes Maurice. The result seemed to augur another trip to the knockout round, but they stumbled in their final game against El Salvador and finished bottom of the group. – source
According to VICE Sports.
Under a manager who hadn’t worked in more than three years, a band of no-names have become the sensation of an otherwise very forgettable Gold Cup. They have grappled past Honduras and Panama to claim second place in a brutal Group A—behind the United States. Honduras, in case you need reminding, is a regional power and qualified for the 2014 World Cup. Panama almost did the same, and was a finalist at the last edition of this tournament.
Yet Haiti claimed a gamely 1-1 draw with the latter; outplayed—or at the very least outshot—the United States in a 1-0 loss; and then knocked Honduras out with a deserved 1-0 win. They were particularly impressive against the Americans.
“The chances we had we didn’t convert,” head coach Marc Collat, who got Stade de Reims promoted to France’s second tier in 2010 before quitting and not taking another job until Haiti hired him in Jan. 2014, tells VICE Sports in French. “And at that level, you know you pay for the smallest mistakes in cash.
“But the very good game against the United States gave us confidence in our objectives and we delivered against Honduras.”
Duckens Nazon, a 21-year-old striker—who isn’t even really match fit, since he was in the middle of his off-season with his French club Laval when he reported for camp—has been a sensation. He has stolen the show by scoring both of Haiti’s goals, even though he only turned professional six months ago. “Nobody expected us at this stage of the competition and we got here regardless,” Nazon says, also in French. “In spite of our tough draw.”
All but one of Haiti’s players play in Europe, where Collat has uncovered a treasure trove of talent, the offspring of a wide Haitian diaspora. Nazon, for instance, has two Haitian parents, but was born in France. But even if not all the Grenadiers, so nicknamed, grew up in Haiti, all of them are aware of the deep issues that remain in a desperately poor country that is still trying to rebuild. They play with an almost tangible spirit. It’s made for an old-fashioned Cinderella story.
“Things are hard over there,” says Nazon. “There’s aid and everything, but it’s not distributed everywhere in the country. There’s a lot that still needs to be rebuilt; a lot that’s still lacking. We want to make our country proud so badly. Things are so difficult over there. That’s why I think we’re more motivated than others. We have a determination that pushes us higher and that others don’t have, I think.”
Next up for the Haitians is Saturday’s quarterfinal against Jamaica, who defeated them at the Caribbean Cup in November—where Haiti placed third. It will be a difficult test against a team that matches and exceeds Haiti in its physicality, defensive organization and quickness on the counter-attack. But the Haitians have already reached their objective by getting this far, according to Collat.
If Haiti wins, this would be their best performance ever in a Gold Cup. But even if it strands, there is much cause for optimism—a fairly rare thing in their country. “Haiti has huge potential in soccer,” says Collat. “There are good young players. Unfortunately, there isn’t the necessary infrastructure, but there are extraordinary players that even we have to discover, because it isn’t easy to go to the other end of Haiti. The roads aren’t always in a good state. We still have perfecting to do.”
Jamaica ended up beating Haiti 1-0 and they face USA Wednesday in Atlanta.
Collat and Nazon both credit the federation for getting back on its feet and making the national team programs competitive. Several youth teams have performed well and now the senior side is following suit. “We haven’t been in the spotlight a lot,” says Nazon. “Now we’ve gotten out of a really difficult group and we have shown that we can play. The more games against big teams we play, the more we’ll be on TV and people will realize Haiti has potential.”
But complications remain. According to Collat, several of Haiti’s better players declined call-ups to the national team for this tournament. “We have to be able to get the best Haitian players to come, which isn’t the case today,” he says. “We’re missing players. There’s players who could contribute that we still have to recruit. Some have injuries. Others, because Haiti isn’t sufficiently established, have to choose between their clubs and their national teams and they choose their clubs, because there’s a lot of pressure from their employers.
“Which means we don’t have our strongest possible team there at this Gold Cup,” Collat continues. “It’s not easy for the players, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
But if Haiti continues to perform and garner respect, the tug-of-war over players with their clubs will go their way more often. And with so much young talent, it isn’t inconceivable that the Grenadiers could eventually return to the World Cup—they made their only other appearance in 1974. “It would depend a lot on the draw in qualifying,” says Collat. “Haiti doesn’t have the ranking of the big countries so we have to make it through all the qualifying rounds. We have a round starting in September and then there’s a group stage and then another and… well, it’s a long road.”
It is, but then CONCACAF gets a generous 3 ½ places at the World Cup—with one of them decided in a playoff against the soft Oceania region. If Haiti survives a playoff and then places in the top half of a four-team group, it would enter the fifth and final round, where it would only need to come third or fourth—with a playoff—out of six to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It’s a slog, but it’s doable.
“With the dynamism we’ve shown in this Gold Cup, it’s certain that Haiti could one day find itself at the World Cup,” says Collat. “It would be formidable to be there for 2018.”
“Given how we played against the United States,” adds Nazon, “if we give everything we have we could qualify for the World Cup. It would really be a new story for Haitian soccer.” – Story courtesy of VICE Sports.