July 1 – At the 2019 Gold Cup, Haiti were the surprise package, battling their way to to a semi-final against the tournament’s class act Mexico, a glorious run that was ended in a penalty shoot-out.
Two years later and eight days before the 2021 Gold Cup group stages begin, Haiti find themselves in another shoot-out situation, needing to win two knockout matches to secure a group spot at the big show.
This time they are not the underdogs, they are the highest FIFA ranked team in qualifying.
Coach Jean-Jacques Pierre (pictured) is confident that his team have enough to get through the opening preliminary knock out round against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday in Fort Lauderdale.
Pierre who has only been in charge of Haiti since March, is well aware that qualification for the group stages that begin July 10 is non-negotiable. It is a pressure that he is pretty relaxed about.
“In the first phase (of World Cup qualifying) the group (of players) matured. After one and half years of no competition they are becoming more competitive. All the automatic reflexes you have when you are playing a lot are now coming back,” said Pierre.
In World Cup 2022 qualifying Haiti won their group but to qualify for the final eight team play-off had to beat Canada, a team that had knocked out at the quarter final stage of the Gold Cup in 2019. The 1-0 loss at home and the 3-0 loss away delivered a rude awakening to the Haitians.
“We learned many things from those games,” said Pierre. “We had to change systems, players had to adapt to a more competitive level. We learned much from this. We were three of four players short but since then we have taken all measures available to make sure we arrive today with better preparation.”
Haiti have built a reputation on a never-say-die attitude and are a group of players that refuse to be intimidated and are proud of their legacy from 2019. “This is a very important competition,” said Carlens Arcus, who plays his club football for Auxerre in France.
“This is our World Cup – we need to be there every two years and we will keep working hard and we know what we can do. We will try to write another page of history like we did in 2019.”
In a Concacaf, where nations across the region have dramatically improved their national teams through the increased opportunities of competitive match play, there are no easy matches. And there is another team in this match.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines may not be a celebrated football nation, and certainly their journey to Fort Lauderdale has been fraught with difficulty. but their admirable coach Kendale Mercury is on a mission.
“Haiti are the most difficult team on paper but the game is played on the field, 11 v 11…No-one expected us to be here. We have talked about playing with passion, pride and heart. If we give that then we will be happy.”
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