The teenage girls who stepped onto the field at Alajuela´s Alejandro Morera Soto Stadium on Wednesday for the World Cup Qualifiers were the first Haitians to compete internationally since a 7.0 earthquake rattled their country two months earlier.
Fighting through tears and the knowledge they were going home to a broken country, they battled countries many time their size. Their opening game was against the United States´ powerhouse – a team that ended the tournament with 32 goals in their favor and zero against.
“It was very difficult, with most of the players having lost parents, family and friends,” Haitian coach James Morisset said. “During the game and practices, they´ve been crying and they´ll do their best to give Haiti a smile in this tournament.”
Subsequent games saw them lose 0-2 against host-team Costa Rica and 1-0 against the Cayman Islands. But for many of the participants in the ten-day tournament held in Alajuela, their very presence was something to be proud of.
It´s the first time Haiti has qualified for a women´s youth event since the 2002 U-19 tournament, and despite the devastation that left every team member homeless, they played with heart, according to the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Football Associations (CONCACAF), which serves as the governing international soccer body in the region.
The U-17 World Cup Final Round saw the participation of eight teams, including Panama, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Cayman Islands, Haiti, Mexico, the United States and Canada. After 12 preliminary games, the top four were scheduled to face off in a semi-final round on Thursday. The United States, which has no goals against, will face Canada and Costa Rica will compete against Mexico.
Costa Rica comes into the semi finals as an underdog, after the United States bested the little country 10-0 on Sunday night. Fifty minutes and eight goals into that night´s game, a television announcer shouted, “stop the massacre!” as the United States players were hammering away at the net.
The only other semi-final team with a loss against them is Canada, which fell one point behind Mexico in the 43rd minute of play on Monday.
The winners from Thursday night will go on to the finals in Trinidad and Tobago in September.