Haiti sit second in Group F of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, and they face Antigua and Barbuda on 11 November in a match that will be crucial to their hopes of reaching the third round.
As midfielder Jean-Marc Alexandre told FIFA.com, Haiti's players believe their dream of reaching Brazil 2014 is still very much alive. “Deep down, we really believe it’s possible,” said the Real Salt Lake man, who scored twice in Haiti’s 6-0 victory over US Virgin Islands in September. “So to be knocked out at this stage would be a huge disappointment.”
Edson Tavares’ men made a blistering start to their second-round group, racking up 17 goals and conceding just twice in their first three matches. However, a below-par display at home to Curacao last month saw them drop two precious points, and means they cannot afford to lose away to group leaders Antigua and Barbuda in St. John’s on 11 November.
“We’ll do what it takes, I’m confident of that,” said Alexandre, who is currently involved in the MLS play-offs with Real Salt Lake. “There’s no room for error in this match; if we lose, it’s over. The pressure is huge but we have the technical and mental strength to succeed. The crowd’s support will make all the difference.”
Haiti have not appeared at a FIFA World Cup since 1974, and the Caribbean nation is still recovering from the terrible earthquake of 2010 that claimed the lives of several members of its football family. However, the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter-finalists have strengthened in recent times, with coach Tavares introducing a number of new faces. Among them are Lens striker Jean-Eudes Maurice, who has already made a key contribution since his recent call-up, and Standard Liege defender Reginal Goreux.
“Reaching the Gold Cup quarter-final gives you an idea of what we’re capable of, but the difference in relation to the past, even the recent past, is that many players now have high-level experience in their leagues,” Alexandre explained. “They’re more ambitious about their own careers, but also with the national team. They’re here to be the best in the Caribbean and do their duty, and not simply to earn a bonus.”
Haiti occupy second spot behind surprise group leaders Antigua and Barbuda, with a total of ten points from their four matches to date. The Caribbean islanders know that a positive result in their next match is vital if they are to continue the forward momentum created by Tavares since he replaced Wagneau Eloi in 2010.
“We’ve made progress over the last year, 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.”
For the fans
As Alexandre explained, Tavares is also benefiting from a change of mentality in the dressing room, with a group of players who are altogether more ambitious and in-tune with one another. “For the first time in a long while, we’re all on the same wavelength,” said the midfielder, an MLS champion in 2009. “We all have the same objective. The team is more important than individuals, which is a massive difference compared with the past.”
The Haitians failed to qualify for the most recent edition of the Gold Cup (CONCACAF's Cup of Nations), but Alexandre feels his side are well equipped for future success. “Most of the players in the team are 25 or 26 years old, so we know we’ll be together for a few years,” he said. “That’s what gives us this thirst for victory, along with the pride of making our people happy.”
Haiti is already buzzing ahead of Les Grenadiers’ home tie with Antigua and Barbuda on 15 November, and Alexandre and Co will be keen to give the fans reason to celebrate. Victory in St John’s four days before would certainly be a good way to get them in the party spirit.