Haiti - occupying one-third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola - took an upturn in fortunes in January by bouncing up ten spots in the FIFA/Coca-Cola world ranking , becoming champions of the Caribbean for the first time in their history and booking a place at the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup for the first time since 2002.
The former French colony of Haiti has remained devoted to the unifying principles and simple joys of the people's game throughout its history. When the Boys from Brazil (Ronaldo. Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho, et al) arrived to play a charity match for Peace in Port au Prince in 2004, the explosion of joy that greeted the Selecao bordered on the verge of a dream. The delight on the faces of the Haitian people was something unforgettable . And the crowd at the ground roared all six goals the Brazilians put past their boys in a 6-0 result. There is an appreciation for football in Haiti unlike anywhere else in the Caribbean.
One of only four Caribbean nations to have participated in a FIFA World Cup™, Haiti - with a golden generation of players like Arsene Auguste and Emmanuel Sanon coming through in the mid Seventies - stretched Italy and showed the watching world at Germany 1974 what a gem of native technique and improvisation was hiding out in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.
But since then, Haiti and her football have been in a state of steady free-fall. Recently labelled a 'failed state' by the United Nations, Haiti - the only country ever formed by a successful slave rebellion - had little to shout about beyond the terror and anguish that defined day-to-day life in the country.
That was until January 2007, when, after becoming the last team to qualify, the Haitians went on a courageous tear through the region's top competitors to lift the Caribbean Cup for the first time in their chequered history.
In addition to becoming the final team to qualify, Haiti also played the most games of any side (13) in what proved to be the largest edition of the 18-year-old tournament. After finishing in a three-way tie with St Vincent & the Grenadines and mighty Jamaica in their preliminary rounds in Kingston, the Haitians moved on to the finals by virtue of a superior goal difference, scoring 11 while only conceding three in three games.
Although their preliminary run was nothing short of impressive, the finals in Trinidad & Tobago were expected to be a road too far for the underdog French-speaking outfit. But with wins over Martinique and Barbados, they managed a place in the semi-finals. And after downing Jocelyn Angloma's impressive Guadeloupe by an equally impressive 3-1, Haiti found themselves in only their second Caribbean Cup final in 18 years of trying.
A final to remember
Up against hosts Trinidad - fresh from their debut at the FIFA World Cup in Germany - at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain, few were expecting the upset that followed… especially the 18,000 fans that packed the ground on 23 January.
Haiti took the lead in the 23rd minute when Alexandre Boucicaut pounced on a rebound to slot home. The impressive Fucien Brunel then added a second nine minutes after the break to send the packed house of home fans into a state of stunned silence. Although Nigel Daniel managed to get one back just before the half it was too little too late for the hosts - diminished significantly due to overseas commitments in the squad.
The win - a great upset of the formbook - was celebrated long into the night back in Port au Prince, and also on the pitch by the Haitians players in the Trinidadian capital.
Head coach Luis Amelio Garcia was predictably thrilled with the outcome. "We worked hard for it and we played with a plan. We said we would play with conviction and we did it," the boss said. "We are happy to see how the people of Trinidad supported the football but we are even more happy to do this for the people of Haiti."
Captain and man of the match in the final, Richard Pierre Bruney was also over the moon. "I am very happy and we are all very happy," he remarked. "This is an important moment for us because we achieved our first win in this competition. We wanted to do it and we played our best game and got the winning result…this is a win for the people of Haiti."
The next step for the hard-working and impressive Caribbean Champions will be to test their mettle against CONCACAF's best at the Gold Cup in the USA in June. They will be joined by T&T, Cuba and Guadeloupe (the first time four Caribbean teams will take part), the USA, Mexico, Canada and five Central American sides yet to be determined.
The regional finals in the USA this summer will be Haiti's first time on the big stage since 2002. But with tenacity and desire for further upward mobility, who would doubt their hunger for another big upset?