Matiado Vilme in Petionville, Junior Racine in St. Marc, Hernst Eliscar in Les Cayes, Jaudelet Junior Saint-Vil in Fort Liberte, Yvan Manuel in Cap Haitien and Jacquelin Belizaire in Miami contributed to this report
"WASHINGTON / PETIONVILLE, ST. MARC, LES CAYES, FORT LIBERTE, CAP HAITIEN, HAITI — Haitians filled the streets nationwide Saturday night waving flags, honking horns, playing music, singing and dancing.
Since February, massive protests in Haiti have been rooted in anger at the government over its ineffectiveness and corruption that has prompted calls for the president’s resignation. But this time, the massive gatherings had nothing to do with politics or corruption, but rather the nation’s soccer team, who against all odds made history by beating Canada’s national team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup regional tournament to advance to the semifinals.
“It’s crazy. Haiti’s never done that in the past, so I’m really proud of my guys, of all the staff, the fans and all the country” Duckens Nazon, the team’s star striker said in a post-game interview with a Gold Cup reporter. “So now we are in the history, history for Haiti, but it’s not finished, so we want to go higher and higher and higher, so the sky is the limit.”
Outscored 2-0 in the first half, Haiti came from behind to stun Canada with a three-goal rally to win and clinch a spot in the semifinals.
The national team’s best recent performance in the Gold Cup was in 2015 when it finished second in Group A after the United States. This year they led Group B and after losing most of their friendly matches before the tournament, have been victorious, stunning adversaries such as Costa Rica and Canada who were favored to win.
Nazon, who scored Haiti’s first goal of the match in the 50th minute, has been credited for motivating his teammates to keep their heads high and go for the win against the odds. A video posted by the Haitian Soccer Federation (@fhfhaiti) of his locker room speech to his teammates at halftime in the game against Bermuda went viral and was reposted multiple times on social media. He has been named Gold Cup’s Man of the Match several times and was described as Most Likely to Be The Life of the Party in a Gold Cup Instagram post.
“Nazon you are a warrior, you know how to motivate the team. You are a Haitian Pele, many thanks bro” Haitian fan @Hudson4048 posted on VOA Creole’s Instagram page.
In Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince and the suburb of Petionville, a blackout prevented some fans from seeing part of the game. So they texted and relied on friends who had power to message them on WhatsApp to know what was happening in the final minutes. Then, fireworks lit up the night sky shortly after the game ended in a 3-2 victory for Haiti. People flooded the streets, honking their horns, waving flags and dancing with joy and pride.
“I don’t know what words I can use to express my thanks to the ‘Grenadiers’ (team’s nickname), because I never protest in the streets but tonight I’m out here for my national team because I’m so thrilled,” a young man, with a huge smile and a Haitian flag bandana wrapped around his head told VOA Creole. “Even when they hadn’t scored I was so proud and confident that we were going to win. The angels, our good angels accompanied the team they gave us 3 goals to win (the game) - we say thank you Haiti!”
The scene was repeated with the same level of intense elation in the southern cities of St. Marc, Les Cayes and Fort Liberte and Cape Haitian in the north, where celebrations lasted into the early hours of Sunday.
President Jovenel Moise expressed his congratulations on Twitter.
“My congratulations to the Grenadiers who beat the exceptional odds by scoring this new victory in the 2019 Gold Cup. Thank you to all the players of the team as well as the staff for this exaltation you have given our country,” he tweeted.
Toutes mes félicitations aux Grenadiers qui ont réussi le pari exceptionnel d'accrocher une nouvelle victoire à leur palmarès à l'occasion de la Gold Cup 2019. Merci à tous les joueurs de l'équipe, ainsi qu'aux membres du staff pour ce moment exaltant offert à notre pays.— Président Jovenel Moïse (@moisejovenel) June 30, 2019
About 200,000 Haitians reside in Canada, according to the country’s 2016 census. The Canadian team player who scored the first goal on a free kick in the 18th minute of the game, Jonathan David, is Haitian.
At Miami International Airport, Marie Eveline, expressed her happiness for her nation’s team and her hope that things will improve for Haiti.
“Our people need support, because despite the blackout during the game everyone ran into the streets with joy - that made me so happy, it made me feel so good. Take care of our people because we need that. Haiti needs to live again. We can’t let the country be destroyed and force us to remain overseas,” she said. “Do something to reconcile (the situation), we can’t go on like this.”
A young man VOA Creole spoke to on the streets of Petionville echoed the sentiment.
“I want to tell every Haitian who doesn’t live in the country (diaspora) to keep encouraging our guys in the stadiums (where they are playing) and we ask all Haitians living in Haiti to support them too because Haiti can unite behind this cause - today I’m here we’re all out here in the streets, we’re not fighting, we’re not burning tires, it shows we can unite to do something great.”
In Washington, Haitian soccer fans watching the game at Port-au-Prince, a restaurant serving Haitian food, danced and waved Haitian flags after the game ended.
“I can’t talk right now,” a fan who was all smiles and holding a flag tightly told VOA Creole. “I said it, I said we’d beat Canada 3-2.” Asked what his prediction is for the semifinals he said confidently, “We’ll beat Mexico (laughter). We’ll beat Mexico and the United States.”
One of Haiti’s biggest defeats and disappointments on the soccer field was in the 1953 World Cup when they were outscored by Mexico 8-0.
In Miami, asked if she thinks Haiti can beat Mexico, Marie Eveline said “Exactly! Don’t you remember the World Cup? Haiti, how did the song go again? Mexico you’ll stop being so fresh,” she sang, then laughed. “If we’ve reached this level, we won’t be afraid of what’s next.”
Haiti will face Mexico on July 2, in Glendale, Arizona.