The island nation of Haiti recently missed out on their chance to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, but they quickly re-channelled their energies and are now surging up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and aiming to become Caribbean champions for the second time, after lifting the trophy in 2007.
A country with a troubled history and a challenging present, Haiti were only the second side from the Caribbean to reach the FIFA World Cup finals when, in 1974, they edged CONCACAF giants Mexico with the help of jet-heeled striker Manno Sanon to reach the elite 16-team field for the finals in then West Germany. They lost all of their games there, but their presence at those finals sent a message of a growing global football.
While Haiti’s past is rife with moderate achievements, they are suffering a rocky present. Their footballing headquarters in the capital Port Au Prince were destroyed in the 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands, including members of the nation’s footballing fraternity.
A dose of success in the qualifying rounds of Brazil 2014 would have gone a long way to bringing a smile back to the country, however, they fell short in the first round of group play in CONCACAF. They were pipped to the finish line by Antigua and Barbuda, a Cinderella side in the Caribbean with a bright, shining future.
“Everyone knows about Haiti’s reputation in this part of the world,” said the Antigua coach, Englishman Tom Curtis, to FIFA.com. “They always produce strong players and have a very proud past.”
But rather than slump into a pit of despair, Haiti – who pulled off an impressive string of performances to reach the quarter-finals of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup – redoubled their efforts and focused on the early qualifying rounds for the next Caribbean Cup, which acts as the Caribbean Football Union’s (CFU) entryway into the next Gold Cup.
Rising in the region
They stormed through their first group stage with a minimum of trouble, hammering hapless Saint-Martin 7-0 to send a message to the rest of the competition. Veteran striker Jean Philippe Peguero, currently without a club after a globetrotting club career in Europe and USA, scored a sensational hat-trick in the rout.
They continued their momentum with a 3-1 win over Bermuda, Peguero again scoring before he found the back of the net once more against Puerto Rico as the Haitians claimed top spot in their group with a 100 per cent record.
Their impressive group results in Caribbean Cup qualifying have Haiti looking like the form team in that competition along with Trinidad and Tobago, another former power who missed out on qualifying for Brazil 2014. It has also seen Haiti’s position in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking skyrocket.
They moved up no fewer than 17 places in the latest release of world football’s official pecking order, climbing up to fifth in the CONCACAF region, just behind Jamaica and ahead of such powers as Costa Rica and Honduras.
The Haitians are in 60th place in the overall global ladder, just behind Scotland, Bulgaria and Poland. These are certainly indications that the islanders, coached by former Cuban international Israel Blake Cantero, are back on the rise again, an opinion shared by their Major League Soccer-based star Jean Marc Alexandre of San Jose Earthquakes.
“We’ve made progress, there’s no doubt about it,” said Alexandre, a full international since 2008. “The coach has brought about an attacking philosophy that is sticking in our minds. His message is coming across very well and his system suits our strengths. If everyone plays to the best of their ability for the national team, then it’s thanks to him.”