They may be considered international minnows, but the Haitian footballers are finally hoping to make their mark on the world stage, aided by their professional experience in Europe.
The move across the Atlantic has been difficult for members of the national team, said Nerilia Mondesir, who has played in France since 2017.
“It’s not easy for Haitian women to play football. The opportunities are rare. We have to make sacrifices like leaving our country and our family,” said the 23-year-old striker who plays for Montpellier HSC.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, was devastated by earthquakes in 2010 and 2021.
It has also been rocked by political unrest – including the assassination of President Jovenel Moise a year ago – and a crippling economic crisis.
The hardships have prompted waves of Haitians to leave, many of whom are heading to the United States in search of the American dream.
The Haitian football scene has also been rocked by a scandal.
In 2020, the president of the country’s soccer federation, Yves Jean-Bart, was banned for life by world body FIFA over allegations that he harassed and sexually abused various female players, including minors.
– “Major races” –
Fourteen members of Haiti’s women’s national soccer team play in Europe and a handful for universities in the United States, their coach Nicolas Delépine said after their CONCACAF W tournament debut in Mexico.
“The first thing we do is send our players to the big leagues,” said the Frenchman.
The national team hopes to break new ground by qualifying in Mexico for the 2023 Women’s World Cup and the 2024 Olympics.
They face Mexico on Thursday after losing 3-0 to two-time defending World Cup champions USA in their opener of the eight-team tournament in Monterrey.
Despite the beating, USA captain Megan Rapinoe credited the Haitians with “a lot of individual talent”.
As Rapinoe appeared before the press to hail a recent historic equal pay agreement in her country after the match, the Haitians quietly left the stadium.
Only Mondesir, somewhat surprised, timidly accepted a few questions from the press.
Playing in Europe has not been easy for Haitians who lack experience, she said.
“In professional teams you have to work harder than players from other countries,” she said.
Losing to the United States in Monterrey will help Haitians become stronger, Mondesir said, adding, “We learned a lot.”
The top two teams from each group will qualify for the semi-finals and next year’s Women’s World Cup, third-place teams will qualify for next February’s Global Qualifiers for three final places for the Women’s World Cup .
The CONCACAF champion will qualify for the Paris Olympics while the runners-up and third-place teams will meet in the playoffs next year to determine another 2024 spot in France.
The Haitian coach is convinced that the minnows will one day realize their dream of participating in a World Cup.
“Haiti is a small country, but it’s a big country when it comes to football,” said Delépine.